Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Crème Brûlée

When Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake, one of my favourite food bloggers, chose crème brûlée for this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, I was thrilled. Not just because it's one of my favourite desserts ever, but also because I actually made it a few weeks ago on a whim and decided not to post about it just in case.

Holding back took a lot of restraint, mainly because this is my new favourite crème brûlée recipe. And that's saying something, because I bought my first kitchen torch and ramekin set before I could even drive, and as such have tried my fair share of variations.

Crème Brûlée is, without a doubt, one of my favourite indulgences. But it has always seemed to be such a laborious process. Worth it in every regard, because that moment when your spoon crackes the brûlée is totally therapeutic, like popping bubble wrap. But it's not the type of task I'd like to take on after a busy day at work (or school, as the case used to be). Even though I love it, crème brûlée has always been a weekend dessert.

Enter the ingenious Dorie Greenspan.

The recipes I tried before seem to require far too many ingredients -- two cups of milk! One cup of cream! Eight egg yolks! -- so no wonder they were so complex compared to Dorie's recipe. You can visit Mari to find the full recipe, but for comparison's sake, Dorie's recipe contains less than two cups of liquid and just three egg yolks.

The custard is rich, the texture is silky, and the flavour is phenomenal. I have found my new crème brûlée recipe. What else did I expect from a woman who used to bake with Julia Child?

Visit Tuesdays With Dorie to check out the other TWDer's results. Check out Mevrouw Cupcake for the full recipe. Thanks for a great choice, Mari!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers: Rosemary-Kosher Salt and Garlic Lavash Crackers

This month's Daring Bakers selection is Lavash Crackers. They're the expensive crackers you find in the bakery section at your grocery store. And surprisingly, despite their hefty price tag at the grocer, they're very cheap and easy to make.

Thank goodness! Because I asked my boyfriend to bring my pasta machine when he came to visit for the weekend, thinking the dough would be much easier to get into the requisite paper-thin sheets with the machine. He brought the machine -- but didn't notice the handle was missing. Oops!

So it was up to me and my rolling pin to force the dough into paper-thin sheets. I was expecting a fight, but no: the dough rolled out smoothly, almost effortlessly. Occasionally, it would resist, but a five minute rest always made it easy to roll again. I love that I didn't really need to roll the dough into perfect rectangles, because rolling dough into identifiable shapes isn't one of my strong suits. The dough was going to be snapped or cut into strips anyway, so I was able to roll it without paying much attention to maintaining a distinct shape.

Once it was rolled out, I placed the dough on cookie sheets, sprinkled some with garlic seasoning blend and others with rosemary and kosher salt, and baked them til browned and crispy.

They were amazing! The rosemary and kosher salt crackers tasted like focaccia, and the garlic crackers tasted like garlic bread.

The challenge was to make a vegan dip. We served them with olive oil with the same garlic seasoning we used in the crackers. I didn't love it, so next I made a very basic corn salsa (I actually just added some corn to jarred salsa because I didn't have any other salsa ingredients on hand), and that was just okay. As it turns out, despite the fact that I used to be a vegetarian, I'm not the best vegan cook. For our non-challenge dip, my boyfriend made hot crab dip, and that was a hit.

We can't wait to make these easy and delicious again -- next time with a pasta roller.

Lavash Crackers
Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers
* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature< * Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings 1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed. 2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough, satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing). 3. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors. 4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first. 5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough). 6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Four Foods On Friday #48

Another Four Foods on Friday! This time, I share a recipe for chicken pot pie that I made recently.

Photo Credit: Kraft Canada

#1. Melon. What’s your favorite kind?
It's a tie between watermelons and cantaloupes.

#2. Orange citrus. What’s your favorite - oranges, nectarines, navel oranges, tangerines, etc.
I actually hate oranges. And orange juice. Can't stomach them. It's weird, too, because I used to love them as a child.

#3. Oreos. What kind is your favorite?
Double Stuf -- the icing is my favourite part, although I guess it's everyone's. Twice the icing = twice the yumminess.

#4. Pot pie. Share a recipe.
I don't have my own regular pot pie recipe, but coincidentally, I just made cheesy chicken pot pie last week, a recipe from Kraft's What's Cooking magazine. I wish I had photos of my own, but it was for guests who arrived earlier than expected, so there was no time! Kraft's photo is on top of the post, though.

Click here
to see the recipe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chocolate Chip and Skor Bit Cookies

There are so many variations on the standard chocolate chip cookie recipe that it can be tempting to stick with your own "safe bet" recipe. The possibilities are endless, which can either be daunting or exciting, depending on your personality.

Me, I'm a creature of habit. For years, I made the quintessential Nestle Tollhouse cookies. Last year, I was making Anna Olson's version. Now, I've moved onto the Neiman Marcus version, or rather, my own variation of Neiman Marcus' version. It's something of a fusion between the Top Secret Recipes version, the original Neiman Marcus version, and my own little tricks that give the cookie a deep caramel flavour: dark brown sugar and Skor bits.

If you love cakey cookies that stay moist days after they're out of the oven, this will hit the spot. The Skor bits make the cookies extra moist, and as you can see in the photo above, they occasionally ooze out of the cookie like caramel sauce. Yum.

Neiman Marcus-Style Chocolate Chip or Skor Bit Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoons instant coffee powder

1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or Skor toffee bits


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed until fluffy.

2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract until well combined.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (including instant coffee) and beat into the wet mixture at low speed until just combined. Using a spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or Skor bits.

4. Drop cookie dough in heaping tablespoons onto the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes for a chewy cookie, or a bit longer for a crisp cookie.

Yield: ~30 cookies

Friday, September 19, 2008

Four Foods on Friday: Fettucine Alfredo

It's Four Foods on Friday time again. Thanks for hosting, Val! This time, I'm sharing my fallback Italian recipe - authentic, simple, and rich Fettucine Alfredo.

#1. Share a recipe for something Italian.

My absolute favourite Italian recipe is bad for you, but so simple. Authentic alfredo. It's from The Gourmet Cookbook, but I add quite a bit more cheese, since I'm a Parmigiano-Reggiano fiend.

Here's how you make it:

Fettucine Alfredo
Serves 4

3/4 pound dried fettucine or fresh fettucine
1 stick (8 tbsp.) plus 1 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly grated black pepper to taste

Cook fettucine in salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water and drain pasta.

Melt 6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add pasta to butter, tossing to coat. Add reserved cooking water, cream, remaining 3 tbsp. butter, cheese, salt, and pepper. Toss til cheese is melted and mixture is thoroughly combined. Serve immediately and sprinkle with as much extra cheese as you desire.

#2. Jam, jelly, preserves, marmalade, fruit butter or butter. What’s on your toast or bread?
Jam -- homemade strawberry jam, all the way. I still have some left over from the last time I made my own, and it's amazing. It tastes like a bite of fresh strawberry (with a ton of sugar, of course).

#3. What’s your favorite Kellogg’s product? (Since they’re multinational I’m hoping everyone can answer this one. If you don’t have Kellogg’s products, what’s your favorite cold breakfast cereal?)
Fruit Loops. They're oh so sugary, and oh so delicious. And not just for breakfast. I could eat them dry by the handful.

#4. Do you like liver? What about liverwurst?
No. No, no, no. For some inexplicable reason, my boyfriend and his family love these things called "liver pancakes" -- I think it's liver mixed with bread crumbs and then fried in a pan. I just can't stomach it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Eat, Shrink and Be Merry's Better Butter Chicken

Food Network Canada's Eat, Shrink and Be Merry is based on an interesting concept. The Podleski sisters, Janet and Greta, who wrote the bestselling low-calorie cookbook Looneyspoons, visit restaurants and compete against their chefs to make tastier but healthier versions of high-calorie foods: macaroni and cheese, butter chicken, quiche, etc.

Yes, the concept is a good one, but there's a caveat: it is one of the cheesiest shows I have ever seen. The jokes are corny, so much of the show seems obviously scripted (a very bad trait when it comes to cooking shows), and there are juvenile cartoons in between segments.

But you know what? The Podleski sisters really know what they're talking about. Their ideas for cutting calories are smart. Their food tastes great and is good for you. So although I may not be a huge fan of their show, I really like their cookbooks.

Their recipe for Butter Chicken is one I keep coming back to. I find that 6-7 chicken thighs is plenty of meat for this dish when served over some cooked rice, and I puree the diced tomatoes a little before adding them to the pan because my boyfriend simply hates tomatoes (but not tomato sauce). It makes a great leftovers lunch the next day, too.

Click here for the recipe!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Chocolate Chunkers

When I first saw the recipe for this week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection, Chocolate Chunkers, I was on the fence. Right away, there were some obvious offenders: this super-chocolatey cookie also has nuts and raisins in it. Nuts in baked goods aren't my thing, and raisins in chocolate cookies...How can I even begin to describe all of the things wrong with that combination?

I could have been brave and bought the nuts and raisins and tried them anyway. I thought about it. And then I considered the price of the more-than-a-pound of good quality chocolate I would be pouring into the batter. Then I heard the voice of my chocolate-loving, produce-hating boyfriend in my head and imagined the look of horror on his face if he were to see me dump raisins (practically fruit!) into the chocolatey batter. In the end, I decided not to risk it.

And so instead I made Chocolate Chunkers with nothing but chocolate added in. I used a mix of melted dark and semi-sweet chocolate in the batter, which gave it a nice complex flavour, and added chopped Lindt milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips to the finished batter.

Based on the low amount of flour in the recipe, I knew I was in for a brownie-like treat, and I was right. They tasted like a chocolate chunk brownie and cookie hybrid. The cookies were fudgy on the inside with a light crust around the edge and those gooey chunks of chocolate strewn all about.

Happily, I was almost able to fool myself into thinking that these were "low calorie" since there were just a few tablespoons of butter in the batter. I needed to trick myself, too, because these cookies were amazing, and I had a hard time not eating them all myself. That would have been bad news, since we were visiting family for the weekend, and it would have been a shame to not share such a rich, chocolatey cookie with my boyfriend's teenage brothers!

If it wasn't so expensive, I would make this recipe again soon. Instead, I think I'll store it away for a special occasion -- maybe Christmas?

Thank you so much to Claudia of Fool for Food for choosing this wonderful recipe. My boyfriend, his family, and I couldn't be more pleased with your selection!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Four Foods on Friday

Another round of Four Foods on Friday, this one including one of my all-time favourite soup recipes. Thank you so much to Val for running this weekly event!

#1. Egg salad or deviled eggs. How do you prepare?
Oh, I feel quite pathetic in admitting this. I've never actually made egg salad or deviled eggs. I love deviled eggs, but have never had an occasion to make them! But I know my aunt makes a killer version with some mayo and relish and some paprika sprinkled on top.

#2. French fries. Do you make homemade or frozen?
Homemade, all the way. A couple of weeks ago I made cheese, ranch, and bacon oven fries. When you make fries yourself, they're so much better for you than processed and/or deep fried french fries (er...if you're not covering them in cheese, bacon, and ranch dressing!) and just as good.

#3. Gravy. What do you use - homemade, jar, can or from a package?
Homemade, so gravy is a rare treat for me. Living alone, I don't make roast chicken and mashed potatoes anymore, so I don't have the juices to make gravy with. My favourite trick when I do make gravy, however, is adding some wine.

#4. Share a recipe for a hot (temperature, not spice) dish.
My favourite warm-me-up dish is a Williams-Sonoma recipe for Beer and Cheddar soup. You can use white cheddar or regular cheddar, and the more aged, the better.

This soup is quite rich but the flavour is phenomenal! Beer lovers should be salivating right now.

The photo is above, the original recipe can be found here, and my preferred version of the recipe can be found after the jump.

My Take on Williams-Sonoma's Ale-Cheddar Soup
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, finely diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 bottle (12 fl. oz.) light ale
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/4 lb. aged white cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste


In a stockpot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and whisk in the milk and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Williams-Sonoma says to strain the soup through a sieve, which you're welcome to do, but the texture is still wonderful as-is, so why dirty another dish

Return the mixture to the pot and set over medium heat. Add the ale, Worcestershire and mustard and simmer for 5 minutes. Whisk in the cheese 1/2 cup at a time, letting each addition melt before adding more; do not allow the soup to boil. Season with salt and cayenne.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my 21st birthday! It's not as exciting as if I were an American (I've been legally drinking in Canada for two years now), although I will definitely appreciate being able to have a drink with dinner when I go to the States from now on.

It's been a great birthday so far for my foodie side. My boyfriend has given me my gifts already. He bought me a kitchen scale, a bamboo cutting board, and a heavy duty stainless steel stock pot. I can now make British recipes with better accuracy, throw out my crappy, distorted Ikea cutting boards, and make recipes that call for a heavy bottomed saucepan! Talk about exciting news.

As you can see, I'm already putting the cutting board to good use.

To me, food-related gifts from him are actually quite romantic. When we lived together, he would tease me about the kitchen gadgets I was always bringing home. He insists I have way too much kitchen stuff. But he also told me that he likes to buy it for me anyway because cooking makes me so happy, and he knows that any kitchen thing he gets me is going to be well-used. So even though someday our cupboards will be bursting at the seams and he won't be able to open a drawer without a lemon zester, melon baller, or piping bag jumping out, he buys it anyway because he just likes to see me happy. Is that awesome or what?

Photos of all of the gifts after the jump, if you're interested.

Cuisinart 3-quart Saucepan
Fresco digital kitchen scale
A very sturdy bamboo cutting board

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of Thai Red Curry

If there's one dish that I never seem to get sick of, it's got to be Thai red curry. I love the complex, spicy flavour and how well it pairs with almost any type of meat or vegetable. I love the way it makes even the most boring batch of white rice seem mouthwatering. And I love that I never seem to get sick of it. Is that too redundant?

It took my boyfriend and I awhile to find the perfect ingredients. We bought Thai Kitchen's red curry paste, but found that we tasted more heat than flavour. After our scorched taste buds recovered, we tracked down Maesri brand red curry paste from the local Thai grocer for a quarter of the price and a lot more flavour. $1 a can vs. $4 for a tiny jar, to be precise.

We also learned to check the ingredient list when buying coconut milk. There is a wide variety of brands out there, and a ton of them are composed of nothing but water and coconut extract! The best canned coconut milk contains nothing but coconut milk, but it may cost you up to $4 a can if you're buying it from a non-Asian grocer. It's worth the trip to an Asian grocer to save the money -- we typically spend $1 a can or less for pure coconut milk.

A bag of kaffir lime leaves rounds out the ingredient list. We bought a huge bag of dried leaves for about $3. Our local grocer does sell fresh leaves, but it's not always practical to make the trip for fresh lime leaves, and the dried leaves work just fine for us.

We've tried out a variety of recipes, too. We used Michael Smith's recipe for awhile, which called for chicken stock to be boiled down. It made a ton of sauce, but it didn't quite have the potency of restaurant-quality curry.

But we hit jackpot with Gordon Ramsay's red curry. It follows similar techniques to other recipes, but Ramsay found the right combination. We make our curry by combining Ramsay's technique with Michael Smith's easygoing, "some of this, some of that" style. The photos are from a previous batch, one with broccoli and mushrooms. Find the recipe for how we made it last night after the jump.

Red Thai Curry With Chicken and Bell Pepper
Serves 4 (or 2 with some left for a great lunch!)

2 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
4 chicken thighs, skins removed
1 bell pepper (any colour), chopped into bite size chunks
1 to 3 tbsp. fish sauce
Approx 1. tbsp grated ginger
Lime juice
A handful of kaffir lime leaves
Rice for 4, about 4 cups cooked (we always cheat and use Minute Rice to speed up the process--bad foodies, bad!)

Heat canola oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Fry chicken thighs until browned. Remove to a cutting board to cool.

Fry curry paste in leftover oil until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add ginger to paste and cook about 1 minute more.

Remove cooled thigh meat from bones and and add to curry mixture. Add coconut milk, pepper, fish sauce to taste, and lime leaves and stir well to combine. Cook 3-5 minutes or until desired consistency is reached. Keep in mind that the longer the sauce cooks, the spicier it will become as the flavour will become more concentrated. Add a splash of lime juice to taste and serve the sauce over cooked rice.

Please note that this sauce is quite spicy -- I would rate it about a 7 on a scale of 1-10. If you don't like spicy food, you probably won't enjoy it. But if you do -- you'll love it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Four Foods on Friday

Time for another round of Four Foods on Friday! I'm loving this. I'm always either commuting to London to spend the weekend with my boyfriend on Fridays, or welcoming him here with a nice hot meal. I appreciate taking it easy like this. And it's fun, to boot. Here we go:

#1. Artichokes. Love em or leave em?
In pasta or in artichoke and spinach dip (or any kind of dip), I'm a huge fan. On pizza or by themselves? Ick.

#2. What’s your favorite kind of bean?
I've only recent grown to like beans at all. As it turns out, I really like black beans. I discovered that on a trip to Cuba over Christmas last year. They served black beans and rice together, and I loved it! They're great in South American-inspired soups, too, like tortilla soup. Yum.

#3. Share a recipe for any kind of cake.
This is going to sound a little nutty, but I'm not much of a cake person. I certainly don't have any original cake recipes. But I have been itching to try making a coconut cake anyway, and Barefoot Contessa's version looks delicious and elegant.

Photo Credit: Food Network

#4. What’s your favorite dairy product?
Cheese. Cheese. Cheese!! What else? My Italy posts are still to come, but I will say that my boyfriend brought me a huge round of pecorino cheese from Italy. I can't wait to have some.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters chosen by Stefany of Proceed with Caution, is good. That's it. Just good. Not amazing, not a must-bake. It makes the grade, but I don't find myself craving it as I normally do with Dorie recipes.

Oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate chips is a good start to any cookie recipe, and the cookies' hint of cinnamon and nutmeg adds that unexpected twist that Dorie always seems to think of. So I'm not sure why I'm not loving these cookies. I'm just not.

How did you like the recipe, for my TWD visitors?

I won't be able to visit your blogs til later in the week; I'm currently taking a vacation day from work and spending time with my boyfriend, who just returned from Italy yesterday--the beauty of scheduled posting--but I can't wait to see how everyone's turned out. Maybe someone else thought of a creative twist to take these cookies beyond "just good."

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