Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Joy in the Simple Things

I know what you're thinking...I couldn't possibly make delicious home-made bread like this unless I took all day to do it and even then I would be frustrated. But you are wrong. This post contains three recipes that are unbelievably simple, and have been a big hit with guests. The three recipes are:
1. Quick Beer Bread (that's right, beer)
2. Pear Custard Bars
3. Pomegranate-Blueberry-Clubsoda Splash

1. Quick Beer Bread (featured above)

Check it out, this is how easy it is:

One 8 ½ x 4 ½-inch loaf

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease an 81/2 x 41/2-inch loaf pan.
Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups light or dark beer (but not stout), cold or at room temperature, but not flat
Fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center and all the way to the bottom of the pan comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

For some, myself included, it is somewhat of a sacrifice in the moment to pour beer anywhere except into a glass or my own mouth, but in the end it is worth it.

2. Pear Custard Bars

(from the now-famous "Simply in Season" cookbook)

The crust:

1/3 cup / 75 ml butter (softened)

1/3 cup / 75 ml sugar

Cream together with an electric mixer or vigourously by hand.

3/4 cup/ 175 ml nuts (chopped...I use almonds)

Stir in and press into an 8x8-inch / 2-L baking pan. Bake in preheated oven at 350F / 180C until lighly browned, 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

The custard:

8 ounces / 220 g cream cheese (softened)

1/2 cup / 125 ml sugar (NOTE! I use about half this amount of sugar)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a mixing bowl beat cream cheese until smooth. Mix in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Pour over crust.

The pears:

3 cups / 750 ml fresh pears (peeled and sliced)

Arrange over filling.

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

(I also like to had a tablespoon or two of whiskey or cognac...just to keep with the prudent-use-of-alcohol theme of this blog entry.)

Combine and sprinkle over pears. Bake in preheated oven at 350F / 180C for 25-30 minutes.

Now, to make them into "bars" you are supposed to cool for 45 minutes, then cover and refrigerate at least 45 minutes before cutting. Store in refrigerator.

But I like to serve it hot with ice-cream! (see photo....mmmm....)

3. Pomegranate-Blueberry-Clubsoda Splash

In case you can't figure out this liven-up-any-dinner-party gem yourself, go buy some SoNice pomegranate-blueberry juice, pour a bit in a glass, and top off generously with Club Soda. Oh yes, and the add-your-alcohol-of-choice would be vodka or gin. But honestly, I just lap it up alcohol-less, it's really that yummy.

And finally, here is a photo to prove just how satisfied your post-eating dinner guests can be (and such a good-looking bunch to boot!)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gnocchi & Focaccia

I can't stop making gnocchi lately. I love its delicious doughy squishiness. And now that I've figured out that it's pretty easy to make, I'm hooked. This post is all about the meal I ate tonight: potato gnocchi, gorgonzola sauce, and fresh-baked focaccia.

Making the gnocchi

  • 4 small russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
Steam potatoes until tender, about 12 minutes. Mash 'em well. Once they've cooled off a bit, add the egg, cream, salt, and nutmeg to potatoes; blend well. Then add 1 1/2 cups flour and mix until soft and sightly sticky dough forms, adding more flour tablespoonfuls if dough is too moist.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 6 equal portions. Roll each dough portion into 3/4-inch-thick rope. Cut rope into 3/4-inch-long pieces. Arrange gnocchi in a single layer on floured baking sheet.

Cook 1/3 of gnocchi in pot of boiling water at a time. Remove when gnocchi rise to surface and are cooked through and tender, about 5 minutes. Using large strainer or slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to large baking dish; arrange gnocchi in single layer.

To serve, melt butter in skillet over medium heat; add gnocchi and cook until heated through, tossing ofen, about 8 minutes.

Gorgonzola Sauce
  • 2 cups cream
  • 100-130 g gorgonzola
  • 3 tbsp white wine
  • 1 tsp cognac or brandy
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • nutmeg
Simmer the cream, wine, and brandy for a while (until it thickens). Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add cheese last and stir until melted.

I like to drizzle a balsamic reduction on the pasta. It's so yummy.

So far, my forays into breadmaking have ALL been disasterous. I can't help but worry than I'm cursed. Nevertheless, I keep trying to master this most basic of foods.

Tonight's focaccia could be called a success, I suppose. Especially if you contrast it with my breadmaking track record. That said, it still wasn't the most wonderfully delicious focaccia ever. I'm not going to bother posting the recipe. Instead I'm going to ask this blog's vast readership help me out in the focaccia department. Does anyone have a favourite recipe? Does anyone know the secret? If so, post a comment please!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One more thing you can do with milllet....

By the way.....just thought I'd mention that it was Chelsea who inspired me to cook with millet. She recommends eating it in the morning with some yogurt and dried fruit/nuts/sugar stirred in. Stir in whatever suits your fancy and it's super yummy!

A Medley of Colour and Delight!

I made this meal in a flash the other night and it's a "must share" because of the gorgeous colours that explode on the plate (and the scrumminess, of course).

Seared Ahi Tuna Encrusted in Herbs & Sesame Seeds
I bought two extremely fresh steaks of ahi because that was the only fresh fish they had at the store that night (that's usually how I choose what to buy). When I got home, I threw them in the freezer for about 20 minutes - this in an important step in seared ahi 'cause it allows you to cook the outside layer properly without cooking the inside.

Lay out a medley of herbs and sesame seeds on a plate - choose whichever ones you wish. Plain sesame seeds are nice. I added some fennel seeds and caraway seeds which were pretty good too. Paint a bit of oil on the ahi steaks, grind salt & pepper on them, then roll them in the seeds to coat them fully. Refrigerate again for a few minutes.

Heat a saucepan on med-high with a bit of oil. When nearly smoking, add the steaks and cook for a minute (maybe even less) on each side. There should just be a thin brown outter layer and the inside should be bright pink.

I served this with Wilted Spinach and Millet with Gingered Beets and Orange

The Wilted Spinach is pretty straightforward...just toss some in a hot pan and cook it for a couple of minutes. Pour a dash of soy sauce (or any other sauce, or lemon) on after the spinach is wilted and serve immediately.

The Millet with Gingered Beets and Orange is from a cookbook that I'm really into these days called "Whole Grains, Every Day, Every Way" by Lorna Sass. Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup fresh OJ
1 t. unsalted butter
1 t. grated fresh ginger
salt to taste
2 cups diced peeled beets
2 cups cooked Basic Hulled Millet (Taost millet then add boiling water - 21/4 c for every 1 c. millet - and cook as you would cook rice)
1/2 t. orange zest
2 t. pine nuts

Boil the water and OJ together. Stir in butter, ginger, & salt. Add beets & cook about 20 minutes until beets are tender.

Stir in millet and book until grains are hot and moist (yeah!). Turn off heat and stir in orange zest & salt. Garnish with pine nuts (I didn't do this 'cause I didn't have any in the house).


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Year's Magic

How much do you wish you were sitting at this banqueting table? A lot, I assure you. Myself and 12 friends rang in the New Year with a delectable banquet. Some recipes of features have already been posted by Thomas below. And I know that the Last Supper involved Christ sitting at the head of a large table overseeing a delicious meal with 12 of his followers, and although I sat at the head of the table (or the foot, depending on your view of things), I can assure you this was just coincidence.

I'm not sure where to start! Thomas, Orianne and I had a sumptuous time at Granville Island Market selecting the groceries, having created the menu the previous day. It is a wonderful treat to select each and every mushroom with care in such a food-positive environment. I was already having fun by 11am, and things only got better when we cracked open the wine while we prepared each dish. Look out 2008...there's a gourmet food-making party in my kitchen and everyone was invited. Just look at that dish.


  • Arugula salad with roasted tomatoes and boccocini
  • Cilantro-lime shrimp (recipe in Thomas' post below)
  • Carrot-ginger soup with yogurt design (that's Vince's art work...ahem)
Main dish:

  • Sauteed baby bok choy
  • Chevre mashed potatoes
  • Cilantro-lime halibut (recipe below)
  • Mango-apple salsa
  • Wild mushrooms in endive leaves

  • Cheese plate (apple smoked cheddar, pepper gouda, and pear-apple stilton)
  • Sticky toffee pudding (due to the abundance of chefs, I found myself mixing up this deliciousness on the living room floor).
And although I accidentally set the oven to "self-clean" instead of "bake" (this explains the flames, by the way everyone), all the food still turned out beautifully, with that je-ne-c'est-quoi "charred" flavour.

I had such a good time. It was a well-choreographed dinner party, and I felt like a gourmet performance artist by the end (perhaps this is why I took this photo of Cristina's high-quality silver lying artfully on the carpet at 3am when all were satisfied and cleaned up). We all moved together in rhythm in the kitchen and throughout the house, really. Around the table, those feasting took a moment to speak of a grateful moment of 2007 and select a "fortune-cookie-style" piece of wisdom for 2008.

Mine was "It always takes longer than you expect." Aha. So let's take some time with our food in 2008.

Monday, January 7, 2008

a little taste year's eve

Consider this my contribution to what became a yellow-house extravaganza to rival my many new year's eve experiences. Which began, I might add, with an 11 am rendezvous at Granville Island market to purchase many choice foods along with the customary, and perfectly crafted, 12 oz, two-shot Americano at JJ Beans. I'll start with one of the appetizers and then move on to the entree - cilantro & lime was the theme, Si!

Prawns with Cilantro Leaves and Chilli

Here's a Thai-infused marinade that always moves me to say, "Hot Damn, these shrimp kick ass!" This recipe serves around four.
  • 350 g raw prawns
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro (coriander) leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 table spoon oyster sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • metal skewers or bamboo sticks
  1. Peel and devein the prawns and cut each prawn along the back so it opens like a butterfly
  2. Put the garlic, cilantro, chilli, lime juice, vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce and ground pepper in a shallow dish and mix well. Add the prawns to the marinade and mix to coat the prawns. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
  3. Soak the bamboo sticks in water for 1 hour to help prevent them from burning during cooking. Thread the prawns onto the sticks.
  4. Heat a barbecue or grill (broiler) to a high heat. Turn the prawn sticks frequently until the prawns turn pink and are cooked through. You can brush the marinade over the prawns during the cooking.
Always devein those little guys...
the longer you marinate the better...
Lime Cilantro Grilled Halibut Steaks

This is a simple, quick and delicious fish dish. Makes 8 servings.
  • 8 halibut steaks, about 3 lb total.
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Lime wedges
  1. Place halibut steaks in a shallow dish and sprinkle with the lime juice, oil and cilantro. marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours, turning the fish occasionally.
  2. Cook at 375, turning the fish once and basting occasionally with the reserved marinade, until it flakes easily with a fork, about 5-8 minutes per side.
  3. Transfer to serving dish and spread the butter over the fish. Garnish with lime wedges.
If you'd like to turn it up a notch - which we did new year's eve - mix a few chopped jalapeno peppers into the butter.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mexican Delights

Well, it's official: I love Mexico. It's probably pretty hard not too. Gorgeous ocean, friendly folks, a sun that warms you to the core, and of course great food! I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking in this post...

Cerveza on the Beach

A strange but suprisingly refreshing concoction of lime juice, chili spices, and beer. This was mom's mid-afternoon know, when reading on the beach became a bit taxing and she needed something to quench her hard-earned thirst.
PiƱa Colada
Frutas Frio
This is one of my absolute favourites. The little fruit stands that sell pineapple, watermelon, coconut, etc. They dump lime juice, salt, and chile on top. It's sooooo delicious.Chile RellenosQueso Fundido
Just look at this beauty. Talk about points for presentation! There are scallions, nopales, and cilantro on top of the fondue.

Mahi Mahi
Served with a mound of garlic, which I decided to brush to the side of my plate. Yikes.

Hot Nuts!
This one is for you, Alison! Nothing better to cap off a tequila-sodden night.