Friday, April 30, 2010

Balsamic Shallot and Polenta Cake

Two summers ago I gave up meat for awhile.  A number of influences came together to make me question whether or not I wanted to continue eating it.  I am very bothered by the conditions in industrial farms and I worry about the quality and safety of the meat. Also, I had some health reasons for giving it up, so I cut it out of my diet all together.

In the end, I went about 6 months completely meat free before I started to introduce it back into our diet. But looking back on it now, I don’t feel like a failed vegetarian, (although some may view me that way). This period was a transition for me and it has irrevocably changed the way I plan our meals.

I have to admit, making the transition to a vegetarian diet was not easy for a life long meat eater. I often felt like my meals were not totally satisfying, especially at dinner time. I know that feeling just came from a lifetime of habit but it was not easy to break.

But what troubled me most was whether or not I was adequately meeting my two young daughters’ nutritional needs. Being a vegetarian requires more thoughtful planning of your meals than being an omnivore. You have to know the proper combinations of ingredients to meet all you nutritional needs (particularly vitamin B12, protein and iron). These food combinations were not second nature to me, so I second guessed myself, often.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Zucchini and Wild Leek Fritters

Last spring I tried wild leeks (or ramps) for the first time. I discovered them at the Riverdale Farmer’s Market in Cabbagetown. I normally didn't bother going to farmer's markets until later in the season because I thought there would be nothing much to find but for some reason last year I found myself there in late April. I came across a vendor who was selling wild leeks and I was curious, so I bought a bunch.

I brought them home and, I hate to say it, but they sat in my fridge until it was almost too late to use them. This was partially because I did not know what to do with them and partially because I wasn’t really sure I wanted to try them (sometimes it takes me a while to warm up to new things). Eventually, my curiosity won out.

I am so glad it did. The flavour is a cross between garlic and onion, but they are so much more than that. Somehow they just seem like Spring; fresh and green and intensely flavoured. I also love the fact that they are wild. There are so few things we eat now that are. Since my first taste last year, I have wanted more and so as soon as I knew it was time I headed over to the nearest farmer’s market and bought a big bunch. I have many plans for them this year.  I have a Wild Leek, Bacon and Ricotta tart recipe I want to try and a Wild Leek Biscuit recipe, but the first thing I did with them was add them to my favourite Zucchini Fritters.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Banana Coconut Muffins

When my eldest daughter started kindergarten this year I was initiated into the world of trouble that seems to accompany supplying a school snack. I want to send something my child will eat (and she has many opinions about that), I want it to be a quick thing to pull together in the morning or the night before and I want it to be healthy. Add to that the fact that I don’t want the snack to generate a lot of garbage and a simple snack becomes a big pain in the butt.

I have come up with a number of combinations that work, but what gets the biggest "thumbs up" from my daughter is when I bake something like a muffin or biscuit and send it along with a piece of fruit. She likes the Darby Cakes and Blueberry Muffins and last week I made Banana Coconut Muffins from the Barefoot Contessa Boy, that was a hit.  .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tuscan White Bean and Sausage Stew

I have a standing Wednesday night dinner date with my neighbour. Actually, it’s not so much a date as a chance to forgo cooking dinner for one night every other week. We trade houses and dinner responsibility, and usually share a very nice bottle of wine. One week she cooks and one week I cook. She has three kids, I have two and we both have husbands who are not always home by dinnertime. It takes the pressure off and is a nice break in the middle of the week.

When we first started this routine we really catered to the kids. It was usually pasta, a kid friendly movie and a dessert of some kind, to end the evening on a high note (a sugar high). Over time, however, the dinners have evolved to cater more to our tastes, which can be a challenge for the kids sometimes. But that is something that, I think, is not such a bad idea. I think learning to eat well and educate your pallet is as important as any other kind of education. And always making the easy meal underestimates children’s abilities to adapt and enjoy complex flavours.

This past week was my turn and I made a Tuscan Bean and Sausage Stew. We have had it many times in our house so my children are used to it but it was something new for my neighbour’s kids. It’s really a very simple dish, white beans, mild Italian sausage that I buy from a local organic butcher and a whole slew of vegetables. I usually add tomatoes, carrots, fennel, onion, garlic and…kale.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Orange Cheesecake with an amazing Caramel Sauce (and some exciting news)

First, a little self promotional plug. A little while ago I was asked to do an interview with Look and Taste, a food site out of Ireland. They wanted to know a bit about me and why I began blogging. This is my first interview and it is up on their site today, so I am quite excited. You can read it here.

Now back to our regularly scheduled post…I am currently participating in a benefit dinner to support the Campbellford Memorial Hospital, which is the hospital in the small town where my grandfather's, (now uncle's) bakeshop is located. This is the second time that my uncle has taken on the task of creating an amazing dinner to support the hospital.

I am fortunate to be involved this time and I am really enjoying the process. It is a seven course meal for 200 people and most of the supplies and all of our time and work is donated to raise money for the hospital to buy much needed equipment and supplies, so I am very excited to be part of such a worthy cause.

As much as possible we source food from local producers and we make everything from scratch. So far I have been involved in finding local meats and cheeses for a charcouterie course, making a bean spread and I developed this cheesecake recipe. My uncle decided he wanted a cheesecake for the dessert course and we wanted to go with a citrus based cake to finish the dinner with a light and fresh flavour note.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

'Smashed' Ontario Potatoes dressed with Olive Oil, Kosher Salt and Fennel Seeds

Awhile back I admitted to having a particular fondness for potatoes, which is a good thing when you live in a northern climate and you are trying to eat local. During the winter months there is not much to be found beyond squash, potatoes and other root vegetables.

The good thing about potatoes is that they are very versatile and fit perfectly into my winter appetite for soups and stews and roasted things. But even though they are so versatile after awhile you begin to think you have tried everything there is to try with a potato and you get into a bit of a rut…mashed, roasted, fried…yawn.

I was beginning to feel that way and then one day I was watching Michael Smith’s Chef at Home. He did something different, something that I had never thought of, and all of a sudden the rut was over. It was a simple idea, as most good ideas seem to be, but the results were great. He took an already roasted potato, smashed it flat with his hand, drizzled some olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and…fennel seed (my new favourite ingredient) on the top. He then roasted them at high heat so that they got nice and crispy. So good.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cherry Marshmallows

In my article about the incredible Hot Chocolate Cake, I mentioned that I had decorated it with homemade Cherry Marshmallows. At the time I said that I would post the recipe soon. Well, today is the day!

I have never been one to make candy. Up until now I have always found the candy making process either dauntingly difficult or too fussy for my taste, but last summer I became a convert.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Cake (as promised) and a few words about me.

In my last article I mentioned a Flourless Chocolate Cake that I promised would be the subject of my next post. Not one to go back on my word I am going to include the recipe at the end.

But first, I wanted to take the chance to do a little housekeeping, so to speak, so I am going to discuss a few other things before I get to the cake.

I have been focused on writing an “About” page for the last little while to try to explain a little bit about who I am and why I chose to write this blog. I must admit it has been a bit daunting. It’s hard to break down what you are when it seems there are so many variables to that question. I am mother to two amazing daughters and wife to my patient husband who puts up with all my foibles. I am daughter, sister and friend to a very supportive and wonderful group of people.

But beyond all that I am a person who cares very deeply about food. Not just eating it and enjoying it but where it comes from and how it got to my table. As much as possible I try to make sure my food is local, seasonal and homemade. It is not always easy and there has been some compromises, but as much as possible I try to follow that principle.

It bothers me that convenience has become the focus and the main selling feature for much of what we eat. Sure, you can get a box of Chicken Nuggets cooked and on the table in twenty minutes. But in 30 minutes you could cut up a chicken breast, dip it in seasonings and put something on the table that is not full of fillers, emulsifiers, stabilizers and other “izers”. I just think there is a cost for all this “convenience” and for me it has become too high.

There is a very exciting movement growing right now that values this kind of thinking and is a large part of what made me decide to write about my own experiences. It can be found in the writing of Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver and it is showing up in urban gardens and CSA's (community supported agriculture initiatives).

It has been an inspiration for me as I try to adjust my family’s diet and include more and more that is homemade, unprocessed, local and seasonal. I sincerely hope that the recipes and the information I share in this space inspires others. I think it is important to reconnect with our food supply and the seasonality of what we eat.

One more thing, for those of you who have been kind enough to follow me from the beginning, you will have noticed a lot of shifting and changing on this site. In my typical fashion I jumped into this project before I had completely finished with the design. Thank you for your patience and I will stop…soon, I promise.

Now to the Flourless Chocolate Cake. I made it on the weekend when my sister’s family was over. It is essentially a baked mousse, just eggs, chocolate and sugar and it is GOOD. Rich, decadent and worth the effort of beating all those egg whites.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache
This recipe is from an old recipe card from the LCBO although the recipe is no longer available on-line.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
6 eggs separated
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the base of an 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper.
Place chocolate and butter in a heavy pot and melt very slowly over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place egg yolks in a large bowl and beat with a 1/2 cup of sugar until tripled in volume and the beaters leave a trail in the mixture.  Fold in the chocolate mixture.
In a separate bowl with clean beaters whisk the egg whites until foamy. Slowly add remaining 1/2 cup of sugar.  Whisk until egg whites are thick and glossy and hold stiff peaks.  Stir one quarter of beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten the batter.  Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the cake is slightly wiggly in the centre and has a crust on top.  Do not over bake.
Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before unmolding onto a plate.


3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons corn syrup
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and corn syrup. Bring to a simmer.  Add the chocolate and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for about 10 minutes. The glaze should be thick put still pourable. Pour over the top of the cake. 

Serve cake with whipped cream.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Toffee, Chocolate and Pistachio Bark

I had my sister and her family over for dinner on the weekend and it was a good excuse to make way too much food. This is pretty much standard practice in our family; always cook twice as much as you need. I think it is a by-product of coming from a fairly large family that universally loves good food.

We use any get-together as an occasion to try new things, share favourites and, in the case of my younger sister and me, one up each other in the dessert department. For years we have had a bit of a competition to see who can make the most elaborate and decadent dessert.

Well, this last weekend I did not make anything too elaborate. instead I opted for making two desserts. I made a really rich and dense flourless chocolate cake, (that recipe will be next, I promise) and I made this fabulous toffee, chocolate and pistachio bark.

It is crisp with a great hit of intense chocolate flavour. I found the recipe in the June 2008 issue of Vegetarian Times and I have been making it ever since. I thought it would be a nice accompaniment to coffee later in the evening, and it was. I even sent them home with extra in a doggybag.

I am saving the elaborate and over the top dessert for next weekend when my whole family gets together. I like having a bigger audience when I win!

Toffee, Chocolate and Pistachio Bark

adapted from the June 2008 issue of Vegetarian Times.

6 salted matzo crackers
2 1/2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cups toffee chips
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with foil.
Arrange matzo crackers on the cookie sheet so that the entire surface is covered with no gaps.  Bake on the middle rack for 10 minutes until the matzo are crisp.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle the surface with the chocolate chips.  Return to the oven for 3-5 minutes, just to soften the chocolate chips.  Remove from oven and using a spatula, spread the melted chocolate chips to cover all of the matzo with a thin layer of chocolate.  Sprinkle with the toffee chips and chopped pistachios.  Leave to cool completely, I put mine in the refrigerator for about a half and hour.  Once the chocolate is firm and completely cooled break the bark into pieces and enjoy! Store the remainder in an airtight container in the fridge.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Apple and Fennel Salad


As soon as the weather turns warm I start to think about lighter things, like salads and fresh tomatoes. Gone is my desire for stew and roasted vegetables. I want to cook less and eat things in their natural state. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

This Apple and Fennel Salad is a perfect example of that.  It is one of my favourite summer salads.  It works well on it's own for a light lunch or dress it up with a piece of grilled fish or chicken.  It is crisp and fresh and the fennel pairs well with the tartness of the apple and the acidity of the vinaigrette dressing.

I remember when I first discovered it. I was watching the Food Channel and Chef Michael Smith was making it in an episode from his Chef at Home series. I had not tried fennel before but I knew it had a licorice taste which I thought would be a strange combination with apples.

That was when I decided I had to try it. I have gotten to the point that I seldom trust my first instinct because some of my best food discoveries have come from trying something I initially thought I would not like.

Now this salad is a staple in our house and fennel has become one of my new favourite vegetables. I put it in stews and spaghetti sauce. I roast it in the winter and in the summer I make this salad. I have changed the vinaigrette quite a bit from the original so if you want to make the salad the original way follow the link above.

Apple and Fennel Salad
adapted from the recipe by Michael Smith Chef at Home

1 fennel bulb thinly sliced
1 granny smith apple thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of good olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
fennel fronds

Toss the fennel and apple slices in a medium bowl.  I simply drizzle the vinaigrette ingredients over the fennel and apple and then toss everything until the salad is well dressed.  Garnish with the fennel fronds and an additional sprinkling of fresh ground pepper.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Orecchiette Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Fresh Basil

Since I began this blog I find myself daily in conversations with people about what I am cooking and the kind of recipes I am posting. Inevitably I get asked if I have any quick dinner ideas. I think the biggest challenge in trying to cook for yourself or for your family while staying away from processed food is getting through the dinner rush.

Many times I have found myself with only a half an hour to get a meal together and at a loss as to what to serve. I don’t want to resort to using boxed or processed food and I don’t always want to order out or go to a restaurant, which always takes longer than a half an hour anyway.

So over the years I have collected a number of quick meals that I can put together in a half an hour. And I have to say, more often than not, pasta has been my best friend. It is versatile, quick and pretty much universally liked. It’s also something that lends itself to working with whatever is in the fridge. If you have pasta, a couple of vegetable options and maybe a meat you can put together a pasta dish in the time it takes for the water to boil.

Last week, when I found myself in a rush with nothing planned for dinner I rummaged around in the fridge, found some bacon, onion, frozen peas, basil leaves and orecchiette pasta. I ended up making a simple pasta dish which I would definitely make again. It was light and fresh tasting with the peas and fresh basil and very satisfying with a good grating of parmesan cheese. If you don’t want the meat option you could always add sliced mushrooms or sundried tomatoes.

Orecchiette Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Fresh Basil

1 lb pasta of your choice, I used orecchiette
4 tablespoons good olive oil
3-4 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
1 small bunch fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into rough pieces
Finely grated zest from ½ a lemon
½ - ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1 cup pasta water
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions in well salted water.

While the pasta is cooking, sauté the bacon until crisp in a large fry pan. Pour off most of the bacon grease, leaving a small amount behind for flavour. Add the olive oil to your pan and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a few minutes more. Add the frozen peas and sauté just until warmed through.

By this point your pasta should be ready. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the rest of the noodles. Add the cooked pasta to your fry pan. Add the grated parmesan, lemon zest, basil leaves and the pasta water and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with additional grated parmesan.
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