Grilled Zucchini with Feta and Lemon, and Grilled Panzanella

It’s been summer for all of one day this year – and by that I mean that we’ve had, cumulatively, about one full day of hot, sunny, bright, lovely weather.

The next storm is rolling in as I type, grey clouds muting the sky.

I can smell the dampness in the air, that fresh greenness that announces the rain about to fall.

No matter, I ate summer for dinner, even if the weather wasn’t cooperating.

Despite the near-daily storms, hail and thunder, the markets and grocery stores are at least full of seasonal bounty: corn, zucchini, basil and a medley of tomatoes.

Tomatoes

Judging from Instagram, people are also having a banner year for zucchini, which always prompts questions of what to do with it all.

Sure, you can make chocolate zucchini loaf, but I like to celebrate them in all their natural – un-cake-like – glory. I had been bandying around grilled zucchini ideas the other day and came up with a plan to play off that flavour with some salty feta and oh-so-summery mint.

Grilled Zucchini

I actually can’t even quite bring myself to call this a recipe; it’s more like a suggestion of things that go well together. Want more feta on top? Go for it. Think some pine nuts might be nice? You’re probably right; try that too.

Grilled Zucchini with lemon and feta I

Grilled Zucchini with lemon and feta II

And since I was going to be grilling, and I have oodles of tomatoes because I just can’t resist buying so many when they’re finally in season, I thought I’d do a riff off a traditional Panzanella salad.

I’ve been joking a lot that this has been the summer of salad and toast. Well, this is basically the combination of those two things.

Though, instead of actual toast, I brushed slices of really good sourdough with some olive oil and then grilled them so they had those delicious char marks, which adds just a hint of summery smokiness.

Bread slices

Panzanella is one of those dishes that is really best in the summer months when tomatoes are in all their glory and you want to eat as many as possible because they actually taste like they’re supposed to and they arrive in stores in a rainbow of colours.

Traditionally, this salad is made with stale bread, but I’ve found I’ve preferred to roast roughly ripped up bits of bread in the oven or, now, this method. The roasting and grilling helps the bread retain a slight crunch and chewiness, even when soaking up the tomato juices and simple dressing.

Panzenella I

Panzenella II

(Don’t have a grill? No problem. Grill pans will mimic this quite well, just set one over medium-high heat and then follow either of these recipes the same way. Except, with the bread, weighting down the slices with something – I have used a can of cranberries wrapped in aluminum foil, so, really, anything goes – helps get those grill marks just right.)

With any luck, we’ll get an actual summer in the next few weeks – and hopefully into September. However, even if we have to stick indoors in the evenings, at least the eating can be seasonal.

Grilled Zucchini with Lemon and Feta

Think of this more as guidelines for a great side dish; you may find you want more lemon or cheese – or less, though I’m not sure how that would be possible. Don’t fret about making the zucchini slices perfectly the same thickness, just watch them on the grill and turn when they’ve got nice grill marks.

  • 1.5 pounds of small zucchini, about four or so
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons feta, crumbled
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint
  • Good extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, optional

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Remove the ends and then slice the zucchini lengthwise as thinly as possible.

Brush one side with olive oil and sprinkle over a scant amount of salt and then freshly ground pepper. (The feta is also salty, so you don’t want to add too much to the zucchini.)

When the grill is hot, place the zucchini strips on the grate, oil side down, and then brush the tops with a little more oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill until they have nice char marks have gone soft. Remove to a serving dish or platter.

Scatter over the crumbled feta. Squeeze the 1/2 lemon overtop, cut side up to keep the seeds from ending up on the plate.

Stack the mint leaves on top of each other and then roll into a cigar. Thinly slice them into ribbons and then scatter over the zucchini and feta.

If desired, use some good extra-virgin olive oil to do a very light drizzle over top.

Serve immediately.

Panzanella

Traditionally, stale bread is used for this, but I love grilling the bread (or roasting it in the oven when it’s not summer). You can use all the same types of tomatoes, but I love to grab all sorts of colours to make this really stand out.

For the grilled bread:

  • 1/2 lb (250 g) ciabatta, sourdough or hearty bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) red wine vinegar
  • 2 lb (1 kg) tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch or two of sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup (60 to 80 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Turn on the grill to medium-high heat.

In a small bowl, pour the red wine vinegar over the onion slices and let sit, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Brush the sliced bread with the olive oil and then sprinkle with some salt and pepper. When the grill is hot, place the slices, oil side down, on the grates. Grill until the bread has nice char lines. Remove from the grill and set aside.

Core and slice or dice large tomatoes – smaller ones can be halved or quartered – and add to a large bowl. Strain the onion slices, reserving the vinegar for the dressing, and add them to the tomatoes. In a jar or small bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar. Shake or whisk until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

Add 1/4 cup (60 mL) of the olive oil and shake or whisk again until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Taste for seasonings, adding more oil if the dressing tastes too acidic.

Pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss until well mixed.

Cut the bread into rough, bite-sized squares.

Add the bread pieces to the tomatoes and toss again, making sure they get saturated with the vinaigrette. Add more dressing as necessary. The bread pieces will soak up some of dressing.

Let sit for about 5 minutes and then toss again.

Tear the basil leaves roughly, add to the salad and mix until combined.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

 

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Julia Child’s White Bread

It was a bit hilarious, in retrospect, to be all, “Hey everyone! I’m blogging again!” and then disappear for six weeks.

There have been a few adventures in the time in between that I will be posting here, but the truth of the matter is that this has been an odd time with lots of rampant emotions, perplexing reactions and reflections. I will also get to that at some point. I’m just not quite ready.

And, frankly, I haven’t really been cooking much.

I’ve been eating a lot of sandwiches, though, and copious amounts of toast. Toast with mashed avocado, flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper; toast with peanut butter, sambel olek, lime and roughly chopped cilantro — it’s kind of like peanut sauce on toast and it is absolutely addictive; toast with thin slices of tomato and a sprinkle of Crazy Jane’s Mixed-up Salt, which has salt and spices all mixed together and is a family favourite that I believe we can only buy in the US now. (It’s also fantastic on avocado.)
Avocado Toast

Sandwiches made from salami and razor-thin slices of cucumber stacked high; havarti and turkey and lettuce with a slathering of grainy mustard; cheddar and homemade basil pesto.

So, yeah, #carblife.

At some point in the last several days, it occurred to me that maybe I should just make my own damn bread. For one, so I could avoid going to the grocery store where I was likely to do some completely unnecessary impulse shopping. (On my list of things to do, near the top, is a kitchen cupboard purge because, good lord, I have way too much food in here.) For two, I needed something to do and getting my hands dirty — so to speak — seemed like it could be therapeutic. It was either that or deep clean the bathroom and one of those had the fringe benefit of resulting in an apartment smelling like fresh baked bread that I could slice while still slightly warm and swipe over with butter before eating it over the sink. The bathroom could wait.

Julie had recently posted a recipe for Hy’s cheese toast that I had mentally bookmarked and in it she linked to her own post from a few years ago on Julia Child’s White Bread, which sounded just about perfect for what I needed.

I love fancy sourdoughs and rustic loaves of no-knead bread but sometimes I just want a good, old loaf of white bread. The bread of my childhood when I would be sent to the neighbourhood bakery to pick up six loaves — thinly sliced — to get our family of six through the week.

Bread, as baking projects go, is barely any work. Exactly the kind of project I also needed.

Mix, knead, take a two hour break, punch, fold, take another break, bake, cool, eat.

Since I’m utterly useless at kneading and since I have a KitchenAid mixer, I didn’t even have to worry about trying to manipulate a shaggy dough into a smooth ball. Though I do love the tactile nature of kneading, so even after the machine had its way with the dough, forming it into a smooth lump, I still took it over to my counter to get my hands into it and knead a few turns.

It is also one of those things that is so damn satisfying. Checking on the dough and seeing how beautifully it has risen always makes me feel so accomplished and pulling it from the oven all lightly golden makes me proud. Plus, there are other delights along the way, like the way it makes the apartment smells and the satisfaction of punching down the dough after that first rise, hearing the hiss of air escaping.

This recipe, unsurprisingly, given Julia Child certainly knew her way around a kitchen, is easy and the bread comes out like a champ. I felt almost guilty feeling proud for how well they came out because there was almost no effort.

Almost guilty.

And then I ate that first slice, still slightly warm, and any guilt disappeared in the joy of eating freshly baked bread.  

Risen dough

Punched doughLoaves about to rise

Risen loaves

Baked bread


Julia Child’s White Bread

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened

Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a standmixer affixed with a dough hook (or, if kneading by hand, a large mixing bowl) and stir in the yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until creamy. (If the yeast doesn’t do anything, toss it and start again after buying new yeast.)

Add the rest of the water and 3 cups of the flour. With the mixer on low, mix until well blended. Add the remaining flour and the salt and let the mixer continue to go on low until it’s combined. With the mixer still going, add in the butter, a couple of blobs at a time until completely blended. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and let it knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes or so, checking occasionally to ensure it’s not crawling up the hook.

If desired, knead for a few turns on a clean counter, form back into a ball and return to the bowl.

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let rise until it’s doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Butter two 4-inch x 8-inch loaf pans. Punch the dough down and divide in two. Pat each piece into a rectangle a little bit bigger than a regular piece of paper — about 9 inches by 12 inches. Fold it in thirds, using the shorter side of the dough, like a letter. Place in the prepared pans, seam side down and kind of tucking under the ends. Cover again and let them rise until they’re, well, shaped like loaves of bread, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F and set the rack in the centre of the oven. When the loaves have risen, bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until they are a nice golden brown.

Remove from their pans and let cool on a rack.

Try to resist waiting to slice, or your bread will squish. I managed 45 minutes and it was still warm enough to melt butter, but not so warm that the loaf couldn’t resist slicing.

Makes 2 loaves.

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Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Around this time every year, I wait for them to appear, those ruby red or speckled green-and-pink stalks of rhubarb.

More than any other fruit or vegetable, rhubarb to me is a sign of the changing season. It is the signal that summer is arriving in bundles of tart stalks to be baked into pies and cakes, stewed to make a bright pink syrup for cocktails.

I snap up what I can when I see it at the farmers’ markets and I’m not above begging friends with healthy supplies to share their wealth. I take all I can and more, slicing and freezing the excess for rhubarb cravings that come later in the season.

Year-round, I save rhubarb recipes as I wait, imagining the hand pies, scones and fools I will make once I get my hands on the first stalks of the season.

A few weeks ago, tweets began appearing in my timeline that the time for rhubarb was finally here. But I was going to be away for the following two weekends and didn’t want to buy any without having the proper time to dedicate to making all the things I had been craving over the past several months. I would have to wait.

On the final day of being away, as I played fetch with my friend’s dog in the backyard of their Victoria, B.C., home, I spied in the corner of their garden a mass of rhubarb.

Sure, he only has three legs but I tired of playing fetch long before he did.

The giant, lushly green leaves created a canopy over the bed, hiding away a forest of ruby stalks that had visions of baking filling my head. Could I please, I asked, take just a little bit of it home with me?

“Take as much as you’d like,” I was instructed. “We probably won’t use much of it.”

With knife in hand, I culled a huge bundle of the stuff (trying to still show some restraint, though tempted to take it all), rolled it into a plastic shopping bag and packed it in my luggage for the flight back to Calgary. I was glad I hadn’t bothered to take much out to the coast, giving me that much more room for this care package of rhubarb.

It was the best souvenir of the trip.

A few days later, I finally had enough time to get into the kitchen and put that souvenir to use.

In the past, I’ve fallen in love with crumb cakes and little cobblers. I have serious plans for pie. And no summer is complete without a rhubarb cocktail from a recipe my grandmother gave me several years ago.

But for the first rhubarb of the season, I wanted to start simply. A recipe for Norwegian Rhubarb Cake seemed like the right place.

A very straightforward cake, there’s no need to cream butter and sugar, no fussing over letting the rhubarb macerate in sugar. There’s not even a need to break out the mixer.

So, in the space of less than 45 minutes, I had cake — and the first bite of rhubarb this year.

Still warm from the oven, it was the perfect afternoon snack. Not overly sweet, it’s punctuated with tart pieces of rhubarb that played nicely against the tender cake.

Thankfully, too, it only put a small dent in my rhubarb supply, leaving me plenty more for the next project. I just need to decide which one.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I found the recipe on a blog called Outside Oslo and adapted it only slightly, upping the amount of rhubarb and omitting a dusting of icing sugar, which people should still feel free to do just before serving. A dollop of sweetened whipped cream would be nice, as well, but is not necessary.

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup (310 mL) flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 lb (125 to 170 g) rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch (1-cm) coins

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter, then stir in the milk. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and well mixed. While still mixing, slowly pour in the butter and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until just combined, then pour into the prepared springform pan. Sprinkle over the rhubarb slices.

Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. (Cakes baked in a smaller springform pan will take a bit longer because the cake is deeper.)

Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake, if necessary, before removing the springform side.

Serve warm.

Makes 1 cake.

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Katharine Hepburn Brownies

There is deep, dark and dangerous knowledge that comes from knowing how easy it is to make brownies.

A few standard ingredients, a pot and spatula, a bit of time and you are rewarded with deep, dark, chocolate goodness.

Late-night cravings for something a little bit sweet and decadent no longer need go unanswered. At least not in my house. Nor mid-afternoon cravings. Or even morning ones. (Don’t tell me you’ve never craved something deliciously chocolate in the middle of the morning.)

The trick, though, is to find the right brownie recipe.

By and large, they’re all easy — though the grades of difficulty increase when adding things like peanut butter or cheesecake swirls — because it’s a simple matter of melting butter with chocolate, adding sugar, eggs and flour, then baking the entire thing. No forethought is required because there’s not even a need to wait for the butter to soften.

Depending on the ratios of eggs, flour and butter, though, some brownies will come out cakey, while others dense and fudgy.

My ideal brownie is on the fudgy end of the spectrum, with that crackle-like top that hides the rich, dark bar below.

In my search for just such a brownie, I stumbled onto numerous posts extolling the virtues of the recipe from famed film actress Katharine Hepburn.

She may be better known for her film roles and assertive, unapologetic personality, but among baking circles, the woman who starred in The Philadelphia Story and the African Queen is also known for her brownies.

How the recipe first came to be part of the public realm varies as widely as the number of brownie recipes found on the Internet.

Some say she was persuaded to give it up to gossip columnist Liz Smith; others report a neighbour secured the recipe after bringing over a batch of brownies to the actress who declared they had too much flour and had been overbaked before she listed off her own recipe.

The story, though, is far less important than the recipe results; gooey and rich, fudgy with the requisite crackled top, these are the decadent brownies that do prompt cravings.

A scant amount of flour keeps them dense and chewy, the richness cut only by the chunks of toasted walnuts littered throughout.

Although easy enough, I wanted to simplify the recipe even further. With all due respect to Ms. Hepburn, if I can avoid washing additional dishes, I will. So, I skipped the step of using a double boiler to melt the butter and chocolate in favour of a one-pot method that doubles as a mixing bowl. Within just a few minutes, and with very little effort on my part, I was pouring the finished batter into the pan and putting the whole thing in the oven. The hardest part, truthfully, was waiting for the brownies to cool before slicing. (It’s possible I didn’t actually wait as long as I should have.)

With the craving answered — and a new favourite brownie recipe in hand — life could go back to normal.

But I know that when it comes again, it won’t take much to appease it. And that is dangerous.

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Take caution not to overbake these as that will cause them to dry out. Swap the walnuts for other nuts, or omit entirely, as desired.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
  • 2 oz (60 g) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) flour

Preheat oven to 325F (160C).

Butter an 8×8-inch (20×20-cm) pan and line with parchment paper, letting a few inches hang over each side, like a sling.

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, then eggs and vanilla. Switch to a spatula to fold in the salt, walnuts and then the flour, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs on it, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool completely before using the sling to remove the brownies from the pan and cutting into squares.

Makes 1 8×8-inch pan of bars.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Looking for the Butter, Onion and Tomato Sauce?

If you’re looking for the Butter, Onion, Tomato Sauce after seeing it on Global Calgary this morning, it’s right over here.

Thanks for watching!
Spaghetti and sauce II

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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