Tag Archives: Cook’s Illustrated

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

 

Ultimate Potato Latkes

platter of latkesI realize that Chanukah ended last week and I’m a little late to the party, but you may forgive me when you find out that I am sharing the ultimate latke recipe with you. So, if you only make latkes once a year, do yourself a favour and bookmark these for next December. You will thank me!

The first time I posted about potato latkes on this blog Taylor Swift was dating  Jake Gyllenhaal. The second time, a month later, Taylor and Jake were still being spotted canoodling in public.  The third time I posted about latkes, Taylor was keeping company with Harry Styles. My final latke posting was last November and Taylor was trying to make Harry Styles jealous by stepping out with Douglas Booth.

From the above paragraph you might conclude that: a) For a woman over the age of 50, I have an inappropriate fascination with Taylor Swift. (Sadly true!), and, b) I also have an unhealthy love of potato latkes (also, sadly true).

I used to believe that I had the very best latke recipe. And then I tried the Cook’s Illustrated version and discovered that I was wrong! These latkes were light, not at all heavy or greasy. The outer crust was crunchy to the point of almost shatteringly crisp and insides were creamy, tender and pillowy soft. These are everything that all self respecting latkes aspire to be.

Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated to crack the code and perfect the latke.  A typical tuber contains 80% water by weight! The secret, it seems, is to rid the potato of as much of it’s water content as possible. This means a little extra work to squeeze out all the moisture that potatoes exude, but trust me, the effort is worth it.

Russet potatoes are the best variety to use. Grating them by hand on a box grater will give you the best texture. Just scrub the potatoes. No need to even peel the potatoes, just scrub well.gratingThe grated potatoes are mixed with a small grated onion and some salt. The mixture is transferred to a tea towel and all the moisture is wrung out. Let the drained liquid sit for 5 minutes and all the potato starch will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Drain off the liquid and save the starch. This starch is what will hold your latkes together. No need to add any additional flour or matzoh meal.sqeezing out liquidThe potato mixture gets heated in the microwave for 2 minutes. This allows the potatoes to release even more moisture and assists in making the latkes crispier and prevents them from becoming greasy by absorbing too much oil. microwavefrying

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate Potato Latkes.

stack of latkes

Triple Coconut Macaroons

pyramid 2 625 sqThese are my absolute favourite macaroons. That’s macaroon, with 2 o’s – the coconut variety, not the pain-in-the-ass Diva, ground almond and meringue variety, which are macarons, with one o. This recipe for Triple Coconut Macaroons, comes from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. I have been making these since the recipe first came out in 2000. Why I have waited so long to share with you is a mystery to me. I promise you, I’m reallly not a petty person.

Although I could make them any time of year, I always associate coconut macaroons with Passover. As a child we bought our macaroons from Open Window Bakery in Toronto. They made both vanilla and chocolate coconut macaroons. I preferred the simplicity of the vanilla ones. I found the chocolate ones too chocolatey for me. The cocoa powder masked the flavour of the coconut, which is exactly the point of coconut macaroons. I always felt sorry for those families that had to get their macaroon fix from the can. They were gummy and chewy, in short, just awful.
00091_chocolatemacaroons_10coconut macaroons in can
The quintessential coconut macaroon is slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, without being gluey. They should be sweet, but not cloyingly so, and they should be bursting with shreds of sweetened coconut. A final dip in a melted chocolate bath, to cover the lower third of the macaroon would not be a bad thing.
in polka dot bowl
Cook’s Illustrated’s test kitchen discovered that the choice of coconut in the macaroon makes a big difference in both taste and texture. Unsweetened shredded coconut, which is drier than sweetened, solved the gluey texture issue.  Sweetened shredded coconut packed more flavor than unsweetened, and together they worked very well. To add one more layer of coconut flavor, they tried cream of coconut and cracked the coconut macaroon code.

Cream of coconut, is not to be confused with coconut cream or coconut milk. Here is a little coconut product primer:
coconut milkcream of coconutKTC-Creamed-Coconut-Big
Coconut cream is very similar to coconut milk but contains less water. Coconut cream is made by simmering equal parts of shredded coconut and water until frothy,  then straining the mixture through a cheesecloth, squeezing out as much liquid as possible; this is coconut milk. The coconut milk is refrigerated and allowed to set. Coconut cream is the thick non-liquid part that separates and rises to the top of the coconut milk.

Cream of coconut is coconut cream that has been sweetened. It is used most commonly in piña coladas. This is the one you want for this recipe. I usually find it in Asian supermarkets, although some larger stores carry it in the drinks aisle.

Creamed coconut is a compressed block of coconut flesh which has been slightly dehydrated and sold in a waxy lump.

This recipe does contain corn syrup, so if you keep strictly Kosher for Passover, here is a recipe for a corn syrup alternative.

Lately, there has been much written about the evils of high fructose corn syrup. This is not the same as the regular corn syrup you buy for baking. If you are at all concerned and want to know more about the science behind it, this article clears up the confusion.

The canned cream of coconut has liquid at the bottom, so it is best to empty it out into a bowl and mix it up with a spoon before measuring and adding to the batter.
Adding cream of coconutadding coconut
The batter should be chilled for about 15 minutes before shaping macaroons. here is a video demonstrating how to shape them.


The chocolate should be chopped fairly fine. I melt about 3/4 of it in the microwave on medium power. When it is totally melted, stir in the remaining 1/4 of chocolate. This is a quick and dirty tempering method but it works quite well.chopping milk chocolatemelting milk chocolateadding second amount of chocolate
I like to dip the bottom third of the cookies in chocolate.
dippingput on parchment

dipped

Click here to print recipe for Triple-Coconut-Macaroons.

in polka dot bowl