Monthly Archives: March 2012

Chocolate Sparkle Cookies

For our family Passover seders in Toronto, I help out by bringing desserts. Last year I made Matzoh Crunch, Salted Caramel Macarons, Chocolate Macarons as well as Coconut Macaroons. My nephew Riley will cause a revolt if I don’t show up with Matzoh Crunch, so that stays in the rotation, but I needed to come up with something new to add to the plate this year. Passover desserts are quite limiting as you can’t bake with flour during Passover. For many years, people used Matzoh Meal as a substitute for flour in their favourite desserts. The results were always leaden and heavy and stayed with you almost as long as the eight days of Passover. Coconut is a very prevalent ingredient on the Passover dessert table, usually in the form of macaroons.  But even coconut lovers have their limit.

This post is dedicated to all the coconut haters out there. I may not be a member of your tribe, but I respect your right to hate coconut. I may not understand it, but I do respect it. Coconut is one of those polarizing flavours, much like cilantro. You either love it or hate it. I happen to love it.

This is a great recipe to make for the coconut haters. This recipe was sent to me several years ago, by my sister Bonnie. I keep a very organized filing system and the recipe was exactly where I thought it should be. Trust me, that doesn’t always happen. Aside from being simple to make, they are quite beautiful to look at. They glitter like Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring and will disappear even quicker than her marriage! The texture of these cookies is a perfect combination of crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle.

Eggs, sugar and honey are beaten very well, then melted chocolate and butter are mixed in. Ground almonds and a touch of cocoa powder are added and then the whole mixture is chilled for several hours.

Scoop cookies onto baking sheet, roll in coarse sugar and bake.

Click here to print recipe for Chocolate Sparkle Cookies.

Maple Pecan Salmon

I think it was Albert Einstein who said, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This could well apply to me. Every year, in mid-late March, we have a few days of warm weather and I put away all the boots, winter coats, hats and mittens. Then inevitably, without fail, it snows the next day. In the ensuing scramble the next morning, everyone curses me for putting it all away and I vow to wait a bit longer next year.

My blogger friend Bobbi, wrote so lyrically about this subject last week. As a matter of fact, she writes lyrically about everything. You should check out her blog. Even though we have never met, she seems like such a lovely person, someone I could be friends with. A few weeks ago, she was travelling and away from her husband. She wrote a beautiful blog titled, Absence and Coconut Chow Mein Butterscotch Cookies. Here is just a little bit of it:

 ”I reach for you in the darkness like I always do, a twelve-year habit that I can’t bare the thought of breaking. My hands meet a cold, crisp sheet. Where are you? Where am I? The sleepy haze begins to clear, and I remember that you’re at home in our bed, so far away. I fumble for the light. I miss you less once my day has started; the light holds so many distractions. But in the dark, awake, all I feel is your absence.”

See what I mean? She is so poetic and lyrical. When I’m away from  my husband, I’m just grateful to have control of the T.V. clicker! I guess maybe I’ve been married a bit longer than Bobbi.

While we’re on the subject of virtual friends, in my mind, Kelly Rippa and I are the best of friends. It annoys my daughter to no end, when we are having a conversation and I say, “Well, Kelly told me …” She reminds me that Kelly and I are not friends, nor are we ever likely to be. But I believe, that if she met me, we would be great friends. We have so much in common. We both have 2 sons and a daughter, with our daughters being the middle child. We both love to stay at home and as I discovered this week, we both suffer from Misophonia.

Literally translated, it means, “hatred of sounds.”  It is a form of decreased sound tolerance. People who have misophonia are most commonly annoyed, or even enraged, by such ordinary sounds as other people eating, breathing, or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds. Both Kelly and I can not stand to hear other people chewing. If my husband is eating an apple or grapes in the other room, and I hear him chewing, it makes me crazy. I have to get up and close the door. I am also extremely irritated by the sound of coffee being poured from a silver coffee pot. I know this sounds totally bizarre, but it’s true.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. I apologize if now you know way too much about me. But perhaps, maybe now you think we could be friends? I would make an excellent virtual friend.

In the spirit of it almost, but not quite yet, being spring (don’t put away the winter boots just yet), I bring to you a lovely salmon dish, featuring maple syrup and salmon. This recipe was originally created by Rose Reisman. I have adapted it, using a new cooking method I learned from Michael Symon (and no, I do not imagine that we are friends, but wouldn’t he be so much fun to hang out with?) Michael suggests cooking the salmon in a very low oven (200°F) for about 15-20 minutes. At this low temperature, the salmon stays very moist and it quite flavourful.

At first, it seems like the sauce ingredients will never come together. But keep the faith, eventually they boil into one sweet and sticky sauce.

When you check on the fish after about 20 minutes, it will not seem like very much has happened since the colour will be almost exactly the same as when it went in. Use a fork to see if the fish will flake. If it does, it’s done. I ended up cooking mine for about 30 minutes, as no one here likes it rare in the center. It was so moist. The sweetness from the maple and honey balanced the richness of the salmon. The crunch from the pecans provided some wonderful texture. I served it with an apple and cabbage slaw.

Click here to print the recipe for Maple Pecan Salmon.

Chile-Coconut Braised Beef Short Ribs

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself utter. “I’m one blog post away from being considered a stalker.”  When it comes to the blogsphere, I don’t think there is an official definition of when you have crossed the line from fan to stalker, however, this is my third blog post where I gush about Melissa Clark and her genius book, Cook This Now. I think if I give away any more of her recipes or continue to fawn over her, she may have me arrested.

Trouble is, every recipe in her book really does scream to you, “cook this now.!!”, and I just can’t help myself from blabbing to everyone I know about Crisp Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas Lemons and Carrots or Double Coconut Granola.

I actually made these short ribs over three weeks ago, when it was still actually still  winter here in Ottawa, and you wanted to eat hearty beef ribs. I just got a bit distracted and am only getting around to posting about it now. Kind of bad timing for me to post about them when today’s record high temperature reached 28°c (82°F for any non Canucks reading this), and the only kind of coconut you may be wishing for is the scented sunscreen kind! However, just file the recipe away for next week, when no doubt we will be freezing once again.

Click here to print the recipe for Chile-Coconut Braised Beef Short Ribs.

On Holiday!

I know it’s been over 2 weeks since my last post, and honestly, I had every intention of posting about Coconut Braised Short Ribs this week. My only excuse is that I have been just too busy! Chilling on the beach is hard work, and I’m bound and determined to get it just right.

I really did bring my laptop, photos of the braised short ribs and the recipe and was planning to tell you all about them, but that post will have to wait until next week. I promise. Lest you think that all I have been doing is drinking Prosecco at the beach, I have now read all three books of the riveting teen series, “The Hunger Games”, and we actually took a hike one day so I could photograph this view!

Back to the kitchen next week, I swear!

Hamentashen

Purim begins this week at sundown on Wednesday March 7. For those not familiar with this Jewish holiday, I present to you a basic primer, my version of Purim 101. Essentially, the Festival of Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in ancient (4th century BCE) Persia were saved from extermination. As in every good story you have your heroes and your villans.

The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia (now known as Iran), and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Achashveirosh, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Achashveirosh loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther his queen. Like all intelligent wives, she kept a thing or two about herself hidden from her husband. Upon advice from her cousin Mordecai, she kept her Jewish identity a secret from the King.

Our story’s villan is Haman, a rather arrogant, egotistical advisor to the King. The King appointed Haman as his Prime Minister. Haman had a particular hate-on for Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down before Haman every time he passed by.  Rather than seeking to destroy Mordecai alone for this slight, Haman decided to take revenge on the entire Jewish population living in the Persian empire. Haman told the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8.)

The King gave Haman permission to do as he pleased. Haman’s plan was to exterminate all of the Jews. He legislated a pogrom that would exterminate every living Jew in the kingdom on a single day. Haman chose the date for the extermination, the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, by casting lots, or dice. The Persian word for lots is pur, hence the name Purim.

Nothing got past Queen Esther. She had her finger on the pulse on the kingdom. Somehow she overheard this plot to annihilate all the Jews. She consulted her cousin Mordecai and he persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king’s presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. She told him of Haman’s plot against her people and somehow convinced him to save the Jewish people. We’re never told exactly how she convinced him, but there are rumours! The Jewish people were saved, and Haman and his ten sons were hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The holiday of Purim focuses on the pleasures of food and drink, more than any other Jewish holiday. It is a time for celebrating and letting go. In fact, traditional Jewish learning requires a person to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai,” though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. The traditional Purim treat is a little triangular cookie typically filled with a fruit or poppy-seed filling. The shape supposedly represents Haman’s three-cornered hat.

I grew up in Toronto, and in our family Purim was celebrated with hamantashen from Open Window Bakery. They were huge with a hard, crumbly cookie dough exterior and either a prune or poppy-seed filling. My sisters and I fought over the poppy-seed ones. (Mom, why did you even bother buying the prune ones?)

When I met my spouse I was introduced to Ottawa-style hamantashen.They were tiny little triangles of dough filled with a prune and raisin filling, dipped in honey and walnuts. Talk about culture shock. My husband’s aunts, Jenny and Carol, supplied the family with their version of hamantashen.  After living in Ottawa for almost 21 years now, I have to admit they’ve grown on me. I actually look forward to receiving my little package from my Aunt Carol.  Every March she goes into factory mode and produces vast quantities of hamantashen to send to her nearest and dearest across the universe. I convinced her to share her recipe with me and I’ve scaled it down in case you don’t need to supply an army.

For the non-conformists among you, and you know who you are, I’m also including a recipe for Cinnamon Bun Hamentashen.

I created these a few years ago, in an effort to come up with a few different fillings. One of my more successful experiments featured Hershey’s caramel kisses wrapped in chocolate dough. Possibly my biggest failure was a flaky dough which I filled with brie, toasted pecans and brown sugar.  These little triangles looked very pretty before they went into the oven but no matter how hard I pinched the corners, they opened up during baking and the cheese oozed all over and the pecans burned.  Not very appealing.

Because I clearly have no life, I created this little video, complete with musical score (courtesy of Michael Frank’s classic tune, “Popsicle Toes”!), to show how the Hamentashen are formed.

The dough for the hamentashen comes together fairly quickly. Sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, flour, baking powder and salt. Remove the dough from the mixer when it is still crumbly and use your hands to do the final bit of kneading.

Aunt Carol’s filling comes together by pulsing all the ingredients in the food processor into a coarse paste.

The cinnamon bun hamentashen filling are easily mixed together by hand.

Click here to print recipe for Aunt Carol’s Hamentashen.