Tag Archives: Cook’s Illustrated

Crispy Sweet Potato Wedges

on quarter sheet pan croppedCracking the code on making crispy sweet potato fries has been an elusive goal of mine for a while now. (Yes, I know I have lofty goals!) I have mastered regular fries, but sweet potato fries are a real challenge. Even when deep-fried, they only remain crispy for about a minute before they go limp. The issue, I have discovered, is that sweet potatoes are higher in sugar and lower in starch than Russett potatoes (the best potato for french fries, by the way).

Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated to figure out how to do it. Cornstarch is the secret ingredient. To counterbalance the low starch content, the sweet potatoes, are given a bath in a cornstarch-water slurry.

Start with peeled sweet potatoes cut in half lengthwise, and then into 3/4 inch wedges. cutting potatoes In order to ensure that the interior of the sweet potatoes become tender, they are blanched in salted boiling water with a teaspoon of baking soda. The baking soda makes the surface of the potatoes a bit sticky so that the cornstarch has something to grab on to. potatoes into waterpotatoes into slurry-2Initially, the cornstarch mixture will be quite thin. Keep stirring gently and the heat of the sweet potatoes will thicken the water-cornstarch mixture and coat the sweet potato wedges perfectly. That unsightly orange sludge coating the wedges will be converted into a shatteringly crispy exterior once fried.mixing slurryHeat oil to 325°F for perfect frying. oil tempYou’ll have to fry them in batches. fryingSalt them as soon as they come out of the oil. The first batch can stay warm on a rack in a 200°F oven while you fry the rest. saltingAdmittedly, these sweet potato fries take some work to prepare. Creamy and soft on the inside, and audibly crunchy on the surface, they are worth both the effort and the calories. These aren’t something you’ll prepare on a weekly basis, but for a special occasion, please reward yourself. They will be making an appearance on our new year’s eve table.

My photo shoot took over an hour and when I tasted the fries at the end, and they were still crunchy.  I like to serve the fries with a chipotle mayo dipping sauce and a sprinkle of dukkah. Take 1-2 chipotle chiles in adobo, remove the seeds and puree. I mix this into 1/2 a cup of Hellman’s mayo (light is perfectly fine, just don’t use the fat-free).fries in a cone

Click here to print recipe for Crispy Sweet Potato Wedges.

Click here to print recipe for Dukkah.

Cider Glazed Apple Bundt Cake

with whole and sliced applesI happen to have a surplus of apples, so we’re baking apple cake around here this week. I have my go-to my favourite apple cake recipe, but I was intrigued by this recipe from the September issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. In addition to the apples in the batter, they added apple cider to the batter and glaze. A full litre of apple cider is reduced down to one cup to really concentrate the flavour.

The recipe fills a large 12 cup bundt pan, but because I can’t resist anything mini, I used my bundlette pan. I also made a small loaf with the leftover batter. loaf and minissingle miniThe batter comes together quickly. You don’t even have to bust out the mixer.

The baked cake gets brushed with some of that reduced cider and the remaining cider is mixed with icing sugar to create a yummy glaze.drizzling glaze 1

Click here to print the recipe for Cider Glazed Apple Bundt Cake.

with tea


Chilled Fresh Tomato Soup

3 black bowlsI know what you’re thinking. “Really?? Who needs another gazpacho soup recipe?” But before you abandon this post and surf on over to see what’s new for fall at Joe Fresh, just hear me out. This is a little different than your typical cold tomato soup. Half the tomatoes get roasted, for a smoky depth of flavour, and the other half are left fresh, to enhance their tangy bright nature. Combining fresh and roasted tomatoes was the brainchild of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. They featured this soup in their July 2012 issue. I tarted it up a bit with some summer toppings.

Squeeze in a dollop of tomato paste to ramp up the umami factor. Sprinkle in a dusting of smoked paprika and cayenne and this soup is humming. Throw in some roasted garlic and shallots for fun.Ingredients Yes, I’m going to ask you to turn on your oven in August, but it will be worth it. Once everything is roasted, puree the whole lot, along with some fresh tomatoes and strain it for a velvety smooth texture. straining 1straining 2Finish it off with corn, avocado and basil and you have summertime in a bowl. Have I got your attention yet?white bowl 2

Click here to print recipe for Chilled Fresh Tomato Soup.

black bowl

Israeli Couscous with Pickled Shallots, Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata

in green bowl 1 625 sqI have never understood the appeal of traditional couscous. It simply does not have enough texture or heft for me. Even when steamed and fluffed properly, so that the grains stay separate, it fails to satisfy me. I like my carbs with a bit of bite to them. Israeli couscous is more my jam. It is dense with a bouncy, chewy texture. I had always assumed that Israeli couscous was just bigger balls of regular couscous. I only recently learned the true difference.

Traditional couscous is actually tiny ground pasta made from semolina flour. It is made by rubbing semolina between wet hands until teeny-tiny balls are formed. The couscous is then dried and steamed. Israeli couscous is also made from semolina flour, but the similarities end there. Israeli couscous is made by mixing semolina flour with water, into a dough. The dough is then machine extruded through a round mould, about 1 millimetre in size.  These tiny pearls are then toasted dry, which adds a nutty flavour. 

Traditional couscous has been around, some believe, since the 9th century, but Israeli couscous is just a baby. It only came into existence in the 1950’s. Following the War of Independence in 1948, many immigrants arrived in the newly formed country from all over the Middle East. Most of them relied on rice as a staple in their cuisine, but there were rice shortages. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked the Osem food company to develop something that they could substitute for their beloved rice. They created “Ptitim“. It was nicknamed Ben Gurion rice, since it was originally extruded in the shape of rice grains. They later introduced a round version which they called Israeli couscous.

This delicious salad is my adaptation of a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I have only made a slight change. I substituted ricotta salata for the feta cheese they suggested. I prefer the drier texture and less salty taste of ricotta salata. Many Italian grocers carry it. Feel free to use feta if you like, or even some crumbled goat cheese, if that’s your thing.

Begin with pickling the shallots. Nothing too complicated here. You will need red wine vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and some thinly sliced shallots. ingredients for picklingSimmer vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves. Add shallots, turn off heat, cover pot and let macerate for 30 minutes. That’s it. I always thought pickling was so complicated. pickling shallotsTo properly cook Israeli couscous, begin by sauteeing in a bit of olive oil until about half the grains turn brown. Then add water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 12 minutes. The ratio of Israeli couscous to water is 1:1.25.  (For every cup of couscous, add 1¼ cups water)toasted cous cousOnce cooked, spread couscous out on a baking sheet to allow it to cool before tossing with other salad ingredients. cooling couscousPrepare the dressing. The mild flavour of couscous can stand up to a bracing dressing of Dijon, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and olive oil.making dressingThen it’s simply a matter of assembly. I thawed some green peas (no cooking necessary), drained the pickled shallots, washed some baby arugula and mint, toasted and chopped pistachios and diced up the cheese. Sugar snap peas or asparagus would also be excellent friends with this salad. ready to assembleI loved the combination of all these ingredients. Chewy, nutty couscous, bitter arugula, sweet mint, crunchy pistachios, salty cheese and the zingy pickled shallots. Each bite had me craving more. in white bowl

Click here to print recipe for Israeli Cous Cous with Pickled Shallots Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata.

in green bowl 2

On the first night of Chanukah: Pecan Toffee Squares

pecan toffee bars stacked up 625 sqOn the first night of Chanukah I baked Pecan Toffee Squares for my true love. He thought they were pretty fantastic. I mean, what’s not to love? Buttery, crumbly shortbread base, crunchy toasted pecans in a sticky toffee filling, topped with a drizzle of milk chocolate and a light sprinkling of coarse salt, because that’s how we roll around here.ready to bakeHere’s a quick tutorial on how to line a baking pan with parchment paper.

flatten dough with bottom of measuring cupspreading toppingBecause the holiday of Chanukah lasts for 8 nights, I thought it would be fun to post sweet treats for 8 days in a row. The true meaning of Chanukah has nothing to do with sweets.on cooling rack The celebration of Chanukah is beautifully explained by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs, on “Blog Shalom”, “The Maccabees were a tiny group of Jews who should not have been able to defeat the powerful Greeks. But they did! And because of this miracle, Judaism survived and did not become consumed by Greek culture. This story of miraculous survival repeats itself many times throughout Jewish history. Despite tremendous powers that have raged against us, nothing has stopped the Jewish people. This is a miracle.”

In our family, gifts are not traditionally exchanged, although there was one year when my husband shocked me by giving me one perfect gift after another for each of the 8 nights. I was going through a bit of a dark time and he thought the gifts might cheer me up a bit. By the fourth night I became suspicious, and realized he had a bit of help in choosing the gifts. He had enlisted the aid of his sister to be his shopping elf! In all honesty, the best gift he gave me that year was an introduction to a great therapist who helped me work through this difficult time. I am forever grateful for that.pecan squares with milk

Click here to print recipe for Pecan Toffee Bars.a slice removed