Monthly Archives: January 2011

Salt and Serenity is Stylish!

On the very same day that the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced, I was awarded “The Stylish Blogger Award”.  Coincidence?  I think not!  Thanks so much to The Little Yellow Kitchen for honoring me.  The two women behind this blog are just adorable.  Lauren and Chrissy are recent college grads, “adding a little zest to what they do best.”  They chronicle their cooking adventures from their tiny yellow kitchen.  It make me happy to see young adults passionate about food.  Check out their blog.

 

 

Apparently this award comes with some strings attached.  Sort of reminds me of those old chain letters you used to get as a kid.  In order to fulfill the duties of this prestigious award I must:

1.  Make a post & link back to the person who awarded me this award.
2.  Share 7 things about myself.
3.  Award 10 recently discovered great bloggers.
4.  Contact these bloggers and tell them they’ve won!

That’s why I love the world of blogging.  It’s filled with people who are generous of spirit and want to pay it forward.  It reaffirms my belief that people are good.

So, 7 things you may not already know about me:

1.  I am the second of 6 children, 5 girls and 1 boy (he is the baby).  My mother named me after my older sister’s favourite doll because she wanted to make sure my sister would like me when they brought me home from the hospital.  (Imagine the hours in therapy I spent over that one!)

2.  My sense of direction is pathetic.  I am a slave to my GPS, so much so that once, when in Florida, the GPS told me to keep going straight, and even though I saw the ocean right in front of me, I was tempted to obey.

3.  I once poured an entire package of Jell-O right into the electric kettle because my mother said, when the water comes to a boil, add the Jell-O.  I was 12 at the time.

4.  I used to hate cilantro. Now I love it.

5.  I practice Iyengar yoga and can stand on my head for about 5 minutes.

6.  I speak to the woman at the King Arthur order desk more often than I talk to my own mother.  (Mom, call me!!)

7.  I would like the words “Serenity Now”engraved on my tombstone.

Recently Discovered (well recently discovered by me) Blogs

Dash and Bella

Baking Across Country

Not Without Salt

Soup Addict

Sweet Amandine

The Grub Daily

The Jewish Hostess

Yummy Supper

The Year in Food

You can do it… at home

Take a few minutes to check out their blogs.  You’ll be glad you did.

Sour Cherry Scones

I have a bit of a thing for online shopping.  I think it harkens back to my childhood when my grandmother would send us cookies in the mail, packaged in a shoe box.  There is something so exciting about a package arriving in the mail for you (even if you did send it to yourself, but then I never spring for the express shipping, so by the time it comes, I have forgotten all about it).

A few weeks ago I was ordering a book on Amazon (Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich.).  I was about to check out when those lovely folks over at Amazon wanted me to know that customers who bought” Chewy Gooey”, also bought Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, Baked, New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco.  Of course I had to look at all these books too.  I could have easily clicked “add to cart” for all three of their recommendations but I exercised some restraint and just added The Craft of Baking.

I had never heard of Karen DeMasco, but when I read the little blurb, I discovered that she used to work as the pastry chef at Tom Colicchio’s Craft, Craftbar and ‘wichcraft restaurants.  I still dream about the lemon tart and pistachio and coconut sorbet I ate at Craft over 3 years ago. That, and their roasted carrots still make me weak at the knees.  Plus I am a huge Top Chef and Tom Colicchio fan.

I loved the premise of this cookbook.  It is designed to let the reader be creative.  After many of the recipes, Karen gives you ideas and tips on “varying your craft.”  Great suggestions on how to make the recipe your own.  Baking as a craft, not just a science.  Plus, If I added this book to my order, then I would qualify for free shipping, so really I was saving money, not spending more money.

When I began reading the book I wanted to bake everything from it.  The photography is gorgeous and her instructions are so detailed.  I decided to start with the Sour Cherry scones.  It has been a long time since I have baked scones but I love tea time. Karen had me at “sour cherry”.   I order American Spoon Sour Cherry Preserves by the caseful.  When I went to the supermarket to find frozen sour cherries I discovered they were sold in a 4.5 kilogram tub.  I lugged the tub home and opened it up to discover that they were not individually quick frozen like blueberries.  I had a solid mass of sour cherries.  I used a screwdriver and hammer to chisel out a half a cup.  It barely made a dent.  I rinsed off the cherries to separate them, then dried them and put them on a plate and stuck them back in the freezer so they would not defrost.  (Karen says if you are using frozen, don’t defrost).  I hauled the tub down to my basement freezer.

After measuring out the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter, she instructs you to pop the whole mixing bowl into the freezer for 5 minutes.  Then mix on low-speed to break up the butter into pebble sized pieces.

Hot out of the oven we tore into them.  The top was all crunchy from the Demerara sugar and silvered almonds we sprinkled on top. However, inside they were kind of wet, not underdone but just too moist from the sour cherries.  Plus, I was a little disappointed with the sour cherry flavour.  They were kind of bland.

To “vary my craft”, I decided to do a second batch, using frozen wild blueberries and buttermilk instead of cream as the liquid.  I also added about a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.  Do not adjust the colour on your monitor.  The blueberry dough will turn purple.  It’s kind of pretty.  I have to say, I prefered the tang of the buttermilk over the cream on the cherry scones.  I also found that the blueberry ones were not as wet inside, which I liked better.  I am excited to try my hand at some savory scones with cheddar and jalapeno.

To print the recipe for Sour Cherry Almond Scones, click here.

To print the recipe for Blueberry scones, click here.

 

 

Light and Lazy Lasagna

Snow, more snow, freezing rain, ice, slush.   Have I mentioned that I hate winter?   It’s only the middle of January and already I am sick of winter.   I am also sick of yogurt, halibut, carrot and celery sticks and cantaloupe and all those other January foods I have been filling myself with.  I am feeling cranky.  I want pasta.  I watched Rachael Ray make “Lazy Florentine Lasagna” last week and it just looked so cheesy and good. (Pet peeve here, why is her audience instructed to applaud every time she adds garlic or cheese or wine?  It makes me crazy! See I told you I was cranky.)  She broke up the lasagna noodles and just mixed everything together instead of layering it.  I wondered if I could lighten it up just a bit so I wouldn’t undo all the good I have done so far this month in the healthy eating department.  I had kamut lasagna noodles, mushrooms and spinach.

I took some of The Quickest Tomato Sauce out of the freezer and went to work.  This recipe is from his Jamie at Home cookbook and I love it.  Well, I just love anything about Jamie Oliver.  Just ask my husband.  Last summer we were in London for a wedding.   One night we went to The River Cafe for dinner.  When we first arrived and got out of the taxi, I noticed a group of people outside the restaurant.  I watched as they were ushered to a table on the outdoor patio.  As I looked more closely, I was positive I recognized one of the members of that group. Apparently my eyes grew wide, my face got a bit flushed and I was rendered speechless. I just grabbed my husband’s arm and ushered him into the restaurant.

When we got inside, I stammered to the Maitre d’, “Was that who I thought it was?”  She smiled and said, “Yes, it was Jennifer Anniston.”  I replied, “What … no not her, was that Jamie Oliver?”  “Oh, yes, she replied, he was with her group.”  Of course most normal people would have recognized Jennifer Anniston and been excited about seeing her.  I didn’t even notice her.  I only had eyes for Jamie.  My husband said he hasn’t seen a glow like that on my face since our wedding day.  Yes, I have a bit of a crush.  He is such a brilliant chef.  I just love his style of cooking; unpretentious with bold flavours shining through.   We ate inside and they were outside on the patio. I never did manage to get the courage to go over for a photo or autograph.  It was just enough for me to see him.  I had forgotten that he trained at River Café as a young chef.

This dish, inspired by Rachael and Jamie, managed to satisfy my craving for cheese and pasta and my crankiness disappeared, if only temporarily!

To print this recipe, click here.

To print Quickest Tomato Sauce recipe, click here.

Torie Cookies (Oatmeal Toffee Cookies)

 

If you have been following along for the last few days you will know that I am struggling to come up with dried fruit desserts for my cooking class on Tu B’Shvat desserts.  Dried fruit desserts are not something I am well versed in.  I think I met the challenge quite well with Tu B’Shvat cake and Meneinas, but the well was running pretty dry and I really wanted to give my students a third dessert.  Of course, there is always fruit compote, but come on now, that’s a cop-out.

I tried focusing on the glut of dried fruit I had purchased, in preparation for this project, but all I kept thinking was, “I want chocolate!”.  And then I remembered one of my favourite cookies combined chocolate and dried cherries (and oatmeal and chopped up skor bars too).  So I figured, as long as the cookie contained some dried fruit, we were ok on the Tu B’Shvat front.

This cookie is an old Martha Stewart recipe, that she got from her friend Torie.  She originally called them “Torie’s Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies” and then somewhere along the line changed the name to “Oatmeal Toffee Cookies”.  In our house, we just call them Torie Cookies.  I did a little research and discovered that Torie is Torie Hallock, a real estate broker on Mount Desert island, Maine, where Martha has her famous “Skylands” house.  I’m betting that Torie is a very successful broker as all she would have to do to sell a house is throw in a dozen of these cookies to seal the deal.

The original recipe called for toffee bits.  They are usually sold here in Canada under the name Skor bits.  I decided to chop up whole Skor bars instead so my cookies are a bit more chocolatey.  I think in the US they are sold under the name Heath Bar.  Whatever you call them, they are delicious.  Just a few notes about ingredients.  Use quick cooking or large flake oats, not instant oats. Instant oats are precooked and dried and are too fine in texture to make a good oatmeal cookie.   Also, the original recipe calls for chocolate chips, but I substitute chocolate callets, which are bittersweet couverture chocolate, shaped into discs.  Feel free to just use any good quality chocolate, chopped up.

 

 

To print recipe, click here.

Meneinas (yummy little nuggets)

 

 

In my continuing quest to uncover dried fruit and nut desserts for my Tu B’Shvat cooking class, I uncovered this little gem.  These adorable little cookies are called “Meneinas” (pronounced Meh-NAY-nas) and they may be singly responsible for making me reverse my former position on not liking dried fruit desserts.  I feel like Sam in “Green Eggs and Ham.”  Say,…. I do like dried fruit and nut desserts.

I discovered this cookie recipe in my new book, “Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt in Your Mouth Cookies.” by Alice Medrich.  I am just a little obsessed with this book and am tempted to bake my way through this one too.  When I bought this book in late December, I promised myself that I would not bake from it in January.  I swore I would only use it for bedtime reading.   Come on now, who am I kidding?  I am so weak!  My New Year’s resolution broken in only 2 weeks.  But to be fair, I was giving a cooking class on dried fruit desserts and this little cookie was just perfect.

Alice says that this is a cherished family recipe from Alexandria, Egypt, given to her by artist Jeannette Nemon-Fischman.  The traditional filling is made with date and walnut, but in typical Alice Medrich fashion, always one to gild the lily, she offers us 4 alternate fillings: Spiced Fig, Apricot Vanilla with Cinnamon and Almonds, Pear Almond and Sour Cherry with Black Pepper.  Of course, being the keener I am, I had to make all 5 fillings.  Just for research purposes of course.  My favourites were the Pear Almond and the Sour Cherry with Black Pepper.  The cooking class students loved them all but their favourites were the date walnut and the spiced fig.

These cookies were so much fun to make.  Actually, I had the best time making the fillings.  Alice suggested that a potato masher would be the best tool for making the dried fruit fillings.  I somehow lost my potato masher so I had to get a new one.  Look what I found!  It is a pogo stick potato masher.  It is spring-loaded and so much fun to use.  No wonder I made 5 fillings.

Once the filling cooled, I added some chopped almonds.  The dough comes together quite easily in a mixer.  It’s enriched with butter, milk and orange blossom water.  I’m just warning you, when you open the orange blossom water be prepared.  It smells like a cheap hooker, but once incorporated into the dough, the flavour and aroma are very subtle.  You can find the orange flower water at middle eastern stores.  Just use some orange zest if you can’t find it.  The dough has the consistency of play-doh and the little cookies are so easy to form.  It’s best to set up an assembly line process.  First, scoop out the filling.  A heaping teaspoon is a good size.  Then scoop out tablespoon sized nuggets of dough.  Then form little cups and fill and seal.

Once the cookies have cooled, I rolled them in icing sugar.  Alice recommends coating them when they are warm and then coating them a second time once they have cooked.  I found they got a bit gummy, so I just coated them once, when cool. I think you could freeze them, uncoated and then thaw and coat them before serving.

 

To print recipe, click here.

To print filling recipes, click here.