December 24, 2011

Baba au rhum

I can't actually remember the first time my mom made Baba au rhum. But somewhere in my teenage years, it became a yearly tradition and she wowed family and friends (and got them tipsy too!) with this recipe. A Baba - you may be wondering - is a yeasted brioche bun that is soaked in rum syrup. My mom would make this dessert only once a year at Christmas, so it was a cherished and much-anticipated holiday treat. At this time of year, I miss my mom so much. She would get giddy and mischievous about Christmas, like a little kid. And this recipe is a perfect expression of her exuberance and Christmas cheer. She would usually put a fair bit more rum than the recipe calls for so her Baba au rhum really packed a good punch, and I'm pleased to say I am proudly carrying this tradition forward.

Along with making Babas for our family, the week before Christmas, my mom would make them for her knitting circle: a group of warm, witty, creative, and zany women who meet once a week at Gaspereau Valley Fibres, the gorgeous wool store down the road where she worked for many years. She loved those knitting afternoons with a passion! She would always come home with rosy cheeks and a sparkle in her eye. When I was home visiting, I would sometimes drop in on the group with her but always as an onlooker, never as a knitter. But recently, after years of resisting it, I finally started knitting, thanks to the patient instruction of my roommate's mom. So this year, I decided to make the Babas and bring them and my wonky half-finished mittens to my mom's knitting comrades. It's easy to see why she loved these women so much. I also understand where that twinkle in her eye came from, because holy moley (!), the conversations over there can get pretty naughty!! Which makes it all the more understandable that my mom drove around with this bumper sticker on her car.

From the snowy Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia, here is wishing you all a very wonderful Christmas eve, and a joyful Christmas day. May there be magic in the air and delicious goodies in your belly!

Baba au rhum
This recipe is from the Madame Benoit cookbook, which was my mom's cooking bible. Madame Benoit is kind of the Canadian version of Julia Child and though our copy of The Encyclopedia of Canadian Cuisine is very worn, missing its cover, and weighs a ton, it is still my go-to cookbook when I am home and I love reading my mom's handwritten notes on her favourite recipes.

1 pkg active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups flour (I used light spelt)
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup soft butter
2 tbsp currants

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup rum

Stir 1 tsp. sugar in warm water.  Add yeast, let stand 10 min. Sift flour in the middle of a large bowl, and make a well in the middle.  Pour in the eggs and yeast mixture. Work with fingers until you have a soft dough.  Knead in the bowl for 2 min.  Cover and let rise in a warm place, until double in bulk (about 2 hours). Punch down.  Add the 1 Tbsp sugar, soft butter and currants and work until well blended.  Knead 3 - 4 min. Fill greased baba molds (or muffin pans) to half full with the dough.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk.  Bake in 450F oven for 10 min, then reduce heat to 350F and bake 20 - 30 min depending on mold size.  For the syrup: boil sugar and water 5 minutes until you have a light syrup.  Remove from heat.  Cool completely before adding the rum. Generously pour the rum syrup all over the babas or as my mom used to do, put the babas right in a large bowl filled with the syrup and let them sit in the syrup so that they absorb as much of it as they possibly can. The rum syrup should soak right through to the centre of the baba. (I generally double the syrup recipe to make sure there is enough). Whipped cream goes wonderfully with these as it softens the intensity of the rum.

I was hoping to get this post up in ample time before Christmas and I'm a little late... but these also make a perfect New Year's Day dessert so I hope some of you out there will try these!

December 20, 2011

Massaged Kale Salad

The first time I ever heard of massaged kale salad, my initial reaction was what the hell kind of hippy salad is that? (I'm allowed to say things like that because I grew up pretty much as 'hippy' as it gets and I'm all about (affectionate) self-deprecation, like this Portlandia clip which is basically a spot-on parody of my personal approach to meat-eating).

But I gave the salad a try, because I like to play with my food and massaging kale sounded fun. This recipe has since become a standard favourite. Massaging the kale with lemon juice, olive oil and salt helps break down the cell walls of the kale leaves and makes it easier to digest. I'm sharing it with you today because (aside from being DEE-licious!) it's a very festive recipe that looks great on the holiday dinner table. Plus at this time of year when there's such mountains of rich foods all around, it's nice to get some raw, fresh goodness on the table and this salad is packed with antioxidants! I was also suspecting some of you out there still have kale in your gardens because I sure do...

I took this photo 2 days ago, when it felt like -20 celsius. How cool to be able to harvest your food in the middle of December! (eh?!) I try to eat as local as I can year-round but sadly kale is the only local ingredient in this recipe. The thing is, if I had to name 3 non-local things that I can't resist, it would be the 3 other ingredients in this salad: avocado, pomegranate, and fennel. Actually, I guess fennel can be local but hard to find the local stuff this time of year. So here you go... a local / un-local salad. (No time to make a video today but I've got a Christmassy ones coming your way so stay tuned!)

Massaged Kale Salad with avocado, fennel, and pomegranate
1 bunch of kale
1 pomegranate
1 fennel bulb
1 avocado

For the massage oil: 
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt

Rip the kale leaves into pieces, discarding the stems. Mix the juice of one lemon, olive oil and salt together and pour half of it on the kale. Now get intimate with that kale! Rub the massage oil into the leaves for about 10 minutes, until the kale is a deeper green and shrinks down in size somewhat. You can also taste it to see how chewable / flavourful it is. Thinly shave the fennel, chop avocado into cubes, and de-seed the pomegranate. Pour on the remainder of the dressing. Mix together & there you have it. 

December 13, 2011

Chestnut Mousse in Lemon Thyme Shortbread Cups

I remember the first time I ate a chestnut. I was 7 years old, it was a cold December day in Vancouver, and the sight and smell of roasting chestnuts on a street corner lit up a fire in my soul. I was in complete awe of the magic and warmth of them in my hands.

One of my favourite things about late fall in Toronto is that baskets of chestnuts start appearing at all the neighbourhood fruit stands. I love roasting them up at this time of year, it's so easy and such a delicious treat with egg nog or a cup of tea. And it's a healthy one at that! They are the only nut that contains vitamin C, they also contain folate (so they're great to eat during pregnancy), and they have cancer-fighting tannins. To roast them, all you have to do make a cut down the side and put them in a 400 F oven for about 20 minutes. Easy.

For a long time, I thought edible chestnuts couldn't grow here and that we only had imports. But The Big Carrot has beautiful shiny Ontario-grown organic chestnuts. They are double the price of the Italian imports, but it's worth it because they are as fresh as can be!

Now, here is the thing about chestnuts that truly makes my heart skip a beat: crème de marron. This is the French chestnut purée that is cooked in syrup and vanilla, so that it turns into a thick, gooey jam. Whenever I spend time in France or Italy, I pack as many cans & jars of the stuff as I can fit in my bags.

My mom used to mix equal parts crème de marron and whipped cream as a special dessert. No big deal you're probably thinking, but if you're like me, this combination will have you down on your knees. I can't even find the words to say how much I love the rich velvety mixture of these 2 things put together. And it takes 5 minutes to make. Open the can, whip some cream, mix the 2 and voilà!  Instant gourmet fast food. One Easter, my mom served it in goblets made of dark chocolate. It was exquisite. For this version, I decided to make little cups out of lemon thyme shortbread since it felt kind of festive, and we have some thriving lemon thyme in our garden. 

But making this recipe turned into an epic adventure because I decided to make the crème de marron from scratch for the first time ever. It was very satisfying to make on my own. However, a word of caution: it took me a whole afternoon to remove the chestnut meat from the shells, so it was a long tedious process. (Next time I think I will just roast them instead of boiling them). If you're pressed for time, I recommend you buy the store-bought stuff if you can get your hands on it.

250 ml whipped cream
1 cup creme de marron (for recipe see below)

(Note: if you don't have time to make these, you can instead opt for waffle bowls, chocolate cups, meringue nests, basically anything sweet and yummy that will serve as a vessel for the chestnut & whipped cream, but be sure not to overpower it, the flavours are subtle and you won't want to miss out)

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp grated lemon rind (make sure it's organic, they spray nasty stuff on citrus) 
fresh lemon thyme leaves

Beat the sugar and butter. Add the flour with thyme & lemon rind and mix into soft dough. Roll out to 1/2 cm thick and cut into large circles. Carefully press into muffin tins and bake at 350 F oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from muffin tin and cool fully. Spoon in the chestnut mousse and garnish. 

1 kg chestnuts
600 grams sugar
vanilla beans

Make a long cut on the side of each chestnut.  Boil in several litres of water for about 10 minutes. (Or roast in the oven). Here is a good video showing one particular cutting-boiling technique. The main thing is to be able to remove all shells and skins so you are just left with the nut. Once all the chestnuts are skinned, put them in a big pot with a cup of water (add more later if it gets too dry). Cook the chestnuts and water until you can crush them easily with a fork (about 25 minutes). Cool and purée them with hand blender. Weigh the purée. You should have about 1kg. Use 600 grams of sugar for each kilo of chestnut puree. (Traditional recipes say more but I find them too sweet). Boil the sugar with 1 cup of water until a syrup is obtained that forms a soft blob when dropped in a glassful of water. (Just before the candy stage). Mix in the chestnut puree at this stage with your vanilla beans. Simmer for about 20 minutes and remove the vanilla. Your crème de marron should be very thick. You can bottle it up as you would jam (or if you're going to use it right away, simply store it in the fridge).

December 09, 2011

Roasted Pepper Ketchup

I have a confession to make. I've had a bad attitude about canning in the city ever since I moved here. Don't get me wrong, I love canning and I have big aspirations to grow most of my own food one day in the near future and hopefully become an expert canner. But Toronto gives me canner's block. You see, I come from a place in Nova Scotia where we're surrounded by wild blackberries, crabapples, mountains of zucchinis in every garden, U-picks down the road, and a farmer's market overflowing with organic local goodness. Nova Scotia is a canner's paradise and in the summer, I get incredibly homesick in the big city. It's not that there's no good local organic produce to be had in Toronto, far from it, there is a thriving food movement with farmer's markets and all kinds of urban farming projects. Thankfully, this fall something happened that broke down my sad case of canner's block and knocked my bad attitude on its ass. I met Tonya is what happened. 

I met Tonya on an Urban Garden Veg Tour I went on back in September, organized by a friend of a friend. The tour meandered through the west end with veggie gardeners opening up their yards to the public. I was completely blown away by the lush harvest that Torontonians are reaping. From the deck on top of her car garage, Tonya had over 110 recycling bins filled with healthy thriving veggies. I found her determination to produce her own food right here in the big city completely inspiring. When I saw her jaw-dropping peppers (which you'll see in the video), I had to know what she had in mind for them. And when I heard the passion in her voice as she talked about canning and transforming her garden's harvest into delicious food for her family, I couldn't resist inviting myself over to film her cooking a batch of roasted pepper ketchup. 

Roasted Pepper Ketchup from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

(I didn't include it in the video, but I have to point out that while making the roasted red pepper ketchup, Tonya was simultaneously cooking up a giant batch of fig and balsamic vinegar jam which bubbled away on the stove all afternoon and made the kitchen smell like heaven. She gave me a jar to take home which I've been savouring with cheeses and trying to make last for as long as possible. Yum!)

From the book Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton 

2 pounds tomatoes
2 pounds red bell peppers
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Prepare an ice-water bath in a large bowl or clean sink. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the water, no more than 1 pound at a time, and return to a boil. Blanch for 1 minute. Scoop the tomatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice-water bath. Continue blanching the tomatoes in batches. Remove from the ice bath and drain. Peel, core, and crush the tomatoes. 

Char the bell peppers in a hot oven (around 475 C ) until charred around the edges. Put into paper bags to make them "sweat" which will make it easier to remove the skins. Roughly chop.

Combine the tomato pulp, chopped peppers, onion, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves in a large nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Remove from the heat and puree with a stick blender. Return the puree to the heat and simmer over low heat until thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove from the heat.

Can using the boiling-water method. Ladle into clean, hot 4-ounce or half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Release trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

November 29, 2011

Chocolate Truffles

Do you ever go through those periods of time where you feel like you've been tipped off your centre of gravity and you need to regain your balance? I've been feeling overworked and tired for a while, and feeling the accumulated stress of spending way too many hours a day in front of a computer screen, going to bed late, not exercising enough, and most importantly, not having enough FUN! So last week when a friend decided to have some girlfriends over for a Saturday evening chill-out with cheese and wine by the fireplace, my whole week turned into one giant countdown to Saturday night. It turns out spending an evening with a group of smart, witty, inspiring women was exactly what I needed to get myself back on track with the important things in life. And not to get all geeky and schmaltzy about it but, hanging out with your girlfriends, it turns out, is scientifically proven to be good not only for for your emotional well being but also physically, since it actually lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and promotes healing. And for that matter, so does chocolate!!! Of course that is the only reason why I brought chocolate truffles to our soiree... for the sake of our good health.

I've been making truffles every Christmas for years. I love making different flavours and packaging them up on a bed of pine needles. They make perfect presents. But as I discovered on Saturday, they are also just the thing to bring to a gathering. Make the chocolate mixture in advance (since it needs several hours to chill in the fridge before rolling into balls), and then bring it with you and have everyone roll them out together. The great thing about truffles is that they are dead easy to make AND heavenly to eat. And you get to whip out your creative flair when it comes to dreaming up various flavours. For Saturday's truffles, I divided my chocolate mixture into 3 batches and flavoured each one as follows:
  1. Rosemary Tangerine (rosemary & grated tangerine rind & a splash of lemon liqueur)
  2. Raspberry Lavender (dried lavender & raspberry vodka)
  3. Cardamom, Nutmeg, and Black Pepper (all freshly ground, this was my favorite, it tasted like chai)
On Sunday morning I woke up with a slight chocolate hangover I have to admit, but I got shit organized, went to zumba class, went to bed early, and generally felt like my life was magically back in balance. The combined miracle of friends & chocolate.

Chocolate Truffles from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (35%)
300 grams / 10.5 oz chocolate (use dark, organic & fair trade whenever possible)
2 tbsp butter (or omit the butter and add 2 extra tbsp cream)
2 Tbsp liqueur of choice (this is optional)
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp cocoa powder for rolling (or chopped nuts, crushed candy, whatever suits your fancy)

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and butter on medium heat. Remove from heat when the butter is melted and the cream is hot, just before it starts to boil. Chop the chocolate into pieces and add it to the cream and butter mixture. Add a pinch of salt (salt brings out the flavour of chocolate). Stir to melt all the chocolate. If the chocolate doesn't melt completely, you can place it on top of a saucepan filled with boiling water water, just until it melts. 

Add your flavours of choice (spices, mint extract, rum, amaretto, espresso, etc...). Mix well and then cover the saucepan and place it in the fridge for about 3 hours or overnight. Remove from fridge and shape into little balls. Roll the balls in cocoa powder, or chopped nuts, or crushed candy cane. (Keep in mind, the balls do not have to be perfect, truffles are after all named after these weird-looking but delicious fungi).

Enjoy, share & be merry!

November 24, 2011

Raw Milk Rally

Today I'm taking you out of my kitchen for a little jaunt down to Queen's Park in downtown Toronto and yesterday's raw milk rally with dairy farmer Michael Schmidt. According to Canadian law, Michael Schmidt is a serious criminal. His crime: selling unpasteurized milk. In 2006 his farm was raided by 25 armed police and since then he has been in and out of the courts fighting a battle for the right to sell raw milk. He recently completed a 37-day hunger strike resulting in Premier McGuinty finally agreeing to speak with him and starting some dialogue on this issue.

To me, our criminalization of raw milk is a sign of how lost we have become as a society, and in a sense how we have fundamentally lost our basic human dignity when it comes to the foods we eat. The world we live in is mind-boggling. Canada sells asbestos, a proven carcinogen, to other countries even though it's banned here. We allow corporations whose listeria-tainted processed meat killed 20 people in 2008 to continue to sell us the same mystery meat. Our store shelves are full of unlabelled, patented genetically engineered foods with unknown long-term consequences. We can buy cigarettes, guns, fast food, which all have the potential to kill us, yet we can't access the most basic and nourishing substance around.  

Recently I spent some time in Maine where I got to drink delicious raw milk from a local farm, because it is legal there, like in many other states. What a treat that was! There are many reasons to chose raw over pasteurized. Peer-reviewed research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that children who drink raw milk have a 41% lower risk of asthma and a 50% lower risk of allergies, compared to children who drank pasteurized milk. Shouldn't it be up to us to weigh the risks & benefits of drinking raw milk and make our own decisions about whether we want to drink it or not? I'll leave it at that for now, since it's a complex issue and I need to get to work. I think the video speaks for itself… let's just say that rally got me RILED UP! So raw raw raw!  Please sign the petition of support regarding Michael Schmidt's sentencing hearing tomorrow (November 25). Also, speaking of dairy, stay tuned for a recipe made up mostly of whipped cream (sadly not raw because then the RCMP might have to raid my kitchen!). Oh and that roasted red ketchup video I promised a long time ago is just about done, finally, so you'll be seeing that soon too!

Raw Milk Rally in Toronto from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

November 18, 2011

Leek Tatin

Have you ever watched a leek plant blooming?  It is so beautiful. Big globes of tiny white flowers bursting out of pointy hats. My mom used to plant leeks in her garden every year but I don't remember ever eating them out of there. I have a suspicion that she planted them simply because she loved the flowers so much. My dad has continued the tradition. This summer, I spent hours in his garden, staring at those leeks and trying my hand at some time-lapse photography which you will see in the video. On such a chilly November evening, it's nice to reminisce about summer and the garden… 

Today's recipe is a leeky and savoury variation on one of my all-time favourite desserts: Tarte Tatin. Tarte Tatin is an upside-down caramelized apple pie. (Yup. Heaven.) I have to admit that I tried making this recipe for you a while back, filmed it all, and when I got to the last step of flipping the damn thing over, it wouldn't budge. I had to pry it out of the pan and it was a total disaster, a giant sloppy mess and I figured I'd better find a solution so that you can make this recipe and trust in a happy ending. I found a solution, made it again last week, but I didn't pack the leeks tightly enough together and it came out all loose and wobbly and still not quite right. Which is frustrating because the first time I ever made it this recipe, many years ago, it turned out just right on the first try. I think maybe the pie got nervous in front of the camera. Anyway, the good thing about having messed it up a few times is I've got some precise instructions so that when you make it it will be perfect. And appropriately, the song in the video is called "recommencer" which means to start over again.

Leek Tatin from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

I believe I first found this recipe when I was staying with my beloved friend Marion's family in the French alps. Marion's mom is a prolific cook and has the most mouth-watering assortment of French cookbooks. I spent hours at her kitchen table going through them. Talk about a place I'd like to click my ruby slippers and be instantly transported to! My version of the recipe has 2 variations: goat cheese & also honey instead of sugar for the caramel. I'm using Bee Queen's wildflower honey, because well, I'm completely infatuated with this honey at the moment. My roommate got me started, she says she is going through a honey phase and apparently it is highly contagious because guess who polished off a half jar of honey in just 4 days?! (I seriously need to get a grip.) I bought some fresh walnuts in their shells last week and have been cracking them like crazy and dipping the pieces in massive gobs of honey. It's the best snack ever. You've got to try it. 

But in the meantime, onwards with upside-down caramelized leek & chèvre pie…

6 large leeks
3/4 cup honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
About 150 grams of goat cheese (more if you love goat cheese)

3/4 cup butter
1 2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 egg

Mix the softened butter with the flour and egg until a soft dough is formed. If too dry, add a tiny sprinkle of water. Roll out and set aside. Cut a piece of parchment paper into a circle to fit into the bottom of a standard pie plate. (Don't worry about the sides of the plate, just make sure it covers the bottom and overlaps on the sides just slightly). Butter the whole pie plate generously including sides, and butter the parchment paper. Place paper in the pie plate, buttered side up. Take off the first layer off the leek stems and clean any dirt away. Steam the leeks for about 10 minutes until they are soft but still maintaining their green colour. Drain and pat dry.

Make the caramel! Heat the honey in a pan on medium-low heat until it bubbles and starts to turn brown (but not burnt), around 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir vigorously. Put a few drops of the caramel in a bit of cold water to make sure the caramel hardens a bit (not into a hard ball but into a soft lump). If it just dissolves, keep cooking it longer. Immediately pour into the pie plate. (Do NOT spill on your fingers, it WILL hurt!) Cut the leeks into 1.5 cm pieces, keeping an eye out for dirt between the layers (the greener & higher up the stem you go, the more dirt there may be, so don't be afraid to peel off the first layers and use only the middle part. Sandy leeks can really ruin this recipe). Arrange the leek pieces cut side up on top of the caramel. Make sure they are packed nice and tight. Now roll out your goat cheese to make a large round shape. I find shaping it into a ball, sandwiching it between parchment paper and rolling it out works well. Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle. So long as it loosely fits over the leeks. Now roll out your pie dough and place on top of the cheese and leeks. Tuck in around the edges of the circle so that they tucked up tight and squishing right into the caramel. (Those bits of pie crust that sponge up the caramel are the yummiest).

Bake in a 350 F oven for around 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately place a plate on top of the pie and flip carefully. You can drizzle any leftover caramel and leek bits & crumbled goat cheese if you want to decorate. My friend Sacha made this pie (see comments below) and she suggests broiling the pie for a few minutes once it's flipped to crisp up the tops of the leeks which I think is a brilliant idea! I'll be doing that next time I make it.

October 03, 2011

Ariell's Butternut Squash Soup

“The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
-Eden Phillpotts

Well HELLO there! I'm back from the vortex of work, work, work that has been my life the past few weeks. Rushed scrambled eggs (eaten way past my bedtime) have been my biggest culinary accomplishment as of late. Aside from the occasional spoonful of peanut butter eaten right out of the jar, and the odd apple grabbed while rushing out the door, it's been mostly eating out for me lately. Dear kitchen, I have missed you so much, are we still friends? 

Things are still pretty hectic, so no video today, but stay tuned because I've got a good one in the works for you's all. It involves a special guest who shared her recipe for roasted red pepper ketchup with me not too long ago, and I can't wait to show it to you. But in the meantime, I want to tell you about this one: my sister's butternut squash soup. It's the most deliciously thick & filling soup, perfect for this chilly fall weather. My brilliant sister (the maestra of soups) came up with this recipe years ago and it instantly became a favorite of mine. By the way, have you noticed how butternut squash is in everything lately?  Big time trending... like sweet potato is SO fall 2010.  Just kidding, I don't believe in food trends. Food is food and shouldn't be subject to frivolous fads and such. But still, have you noticed?! Keep an eye out, it's butternut squash everything out there!  Anywho. Here is the real reason I love this recipe: it only has 4 ingredients!!  Butternut squash. Onion. Peanut butter. Coconut milk. 

Now I want to tell you a little bit about my sister. She is kind of magic. One obvious manifestation of this is how she can find a dozen four-leafed clovers in the span of a few minutes (on lawns that I have spent half  my life scrutinizing and never finding even one!) But also, in all of her recipes, there is a little bit of that magic, pulling treasures and hidden flavours out of ingredients that most people wouldn't dream of putting together. When she was only 12 years old, she started a baking business and got her very own table at the Wolfville Farmer's Market (which she still has today). So she's been at it for a while and that's why I love making her recipes. They are tried and true. She is presently a sous-chef at T.A.N. Coffee in Kentville, Nova Scotia where her and chef Jay cook up a storm of deliciousness everyday, so if you're in the neighbourhood, be sure to check them out. Now if she was making this soup, she would probably sneak in a new surprise ingredient that would make me go "Ooh! What did you put in it this time?" And she would probably look at me with a little dance in her eyes and say "Oh you know, just a little something I threw in there for fun". So if you make this soup, don't be afraid to throw in a little of your own magic! (Mine was a chopped cilantro garnish, and a friend once dumped a half bottle of chili garlic sauce in there, not my style, but she said it was very good). Although I would advise you to make the basic soup first and try it as is because it is actually quite exquisitely perfect in its simplicity.

So here's how it goes: chop up that onion. Fry it up in a bit of oil until soft and golden, with a generous amount of salt. Peel and chop the squash in huge chunks  (should be a large squash, my photo above is not to scale) and throw it in a big pot with the onions. Add about 2 litres of water (or just enough water to cover the squash) and boil that until the squash is soft. Add about 1/2 cup of peanut butter and a whole can of coconut milk. Puree the whole thing with a hand blender, and add a bit of water if too thick. Season with salt (I like to use quite a bit in this recipe, something about the peanut butter just calls for salt).

Now for dessert, please make yourself this harvest cake with apple cider & cream cheese icing. It is delicious. I found it in Edible Toronto magazine and it's like carrot cake but better (because it's got parsnip, zucchini, apple, AND carrots!!). And with a generous spread of that cream cheese icing on top, you can't go wrong.  

September 09, 2011

Swiss Chard Bread Pudding

Savoury bread pudding. Let me tell you folks, this is where it's at. The ultimate frontier of comfort foods. Dunh dunh dunh. (OK that may be a slight exaggeration, it's just that I know this recipe may not sound or look like something you would want to make. And I need to tell you it is! It really is, trust me).

This past weekend, before anyone even had time to psychologically prepare for it, summer boldly shifted head-first into fall mode. The season when it's ok to linger in bed a bit longer in the morning, the time to bring out the woolies & knitting, go for long walks in the park, and most importantly, get back into baking and cooking warm comfort foods. But yesterday for some reason, I wasn't feeling ready to say goodbye to summer. I felt sad and chilly and I needed something warm and mushy in my belly to chase away the blues & chill. I've been toying with the idea of making swiss chard bread pudding for a while. I've never even made the sweet version but have always had a weird nostalgia about it, even though I didn't grow up with it as a kid. I didn't even taste until I was well into my twenties, which is odd having grown up in Nova Scotia. Last year, my roommate made a savoury version which was a revelation, all the bells went off in my head. It was cheesy and carb-ey and I devoured that thing like there was no tomorrow. I've been thinking about it ever since. So here's my slightly boozy, very cheesy, swiss chard variation I came up with. A hearty dish that did a fine job of comforting my seasonal blues. I highly recommend it for a cool September night. (It's also a great way to use up stale bread and sneak in a generous portion of greens for kids who don't like them...  in which case maybe ignore the splash of hard liquor part of the recipe eh?)

Swiss Chard Bread Pudding from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.


About 5 cups of bread pieces (either cubed or torn by hand, stale bread is best)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 bunches of chard, lightly steamed and chopped
3/4 cup white wine (I also snuck in a few splashes of dry martini mix, heh heh, a splash of vodka would do the trick too)
7 eggs
1 1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup grated swiss cheese
1 cup grated gruyere
bunch of sage & a large clove or two of garlic

Sautee the onion and olive oil until onion is soft and lightly browned. Add chopped swiss chard to the onions (steam it and chop it first) and cook a wee bit longer. At the last minute, add the wine (and if desired, a few splashes of vodka or martini mix... go on, do it, you know you want to). Let the mixture cool.

Whip cream, milk, & eggs together. Add chopped sage & garlic, cheeses, bread pieces, and swiss chard mixture. Mix everything well and pour into buttered pan. Bake at 350 C for about an hour or until set and sizzling & golden on top. Serve warm and let your worries melt away.

August 30, 2011

Potato, Beet & Bean Salad

There are few things that bring more joy to my life than a mountain of straight-off-the-farm veggies. The freshness and the fragrance, the variety of shapes and colours and textures, the direct connection to the changing seasons and the soil and the people who work it. But ultimately it's about the ripe possibility of all the potential flavour combinations and dishes that might come about from a bit of slicing and simmering and mixing....  (It also brings me a ridiculous amount of satisfaction to know that these goodies have been plucked off a plant or pulled out of the soil, and have all landed from a nearby farm to my kitchen without one single piece of plastic packaging.)

Looking at my gigantic pile of yummies from Saturday's market (which you can see in the video) I realize I may have overdone it a little. This week will be a bit of a race to conjure up ways to use up all this deliciousness before it gets sad and wilty. I started off with a potato, beet, and bean salad because, well the freshly-dug baby potatoes were acting all coy and cute and generally being their irresistible baby potato selves. And the golden and chioggia beets are simply drop-dead gorgeous and they know it, sitting there all smug and confident in the knowledge that upon slicing into them you just may fall to the floor in awe of their bright pink and orange flesh. And the purple beans with their aura of mystery and magic, they knew they were first up on the list too...  Of course all the other veggies have their charms (don't even get me started about the romanesco, that one deserves a post of its very own, possibly two)...  I hope to share with you some of the various ways I'll be racing to use up this mountain of goodness in the next few days... I'm toying with the idea of a savory swiss chard bread pudding, a leek chevre tatin, and something worthy of that romanesco, but I'm still pondering that one. 

Before we go to potato salad, do you remember a few posts ago, I told you about my mami's birthday cake from Patisserie Rhubarbe in Montreal?  The gateau choco-citron? Well it turns out one of my favorite food bloggers recreated the cake in her own kitchen, all the way in Brunei! How cool is that? The food blogging community is so awesome!!

Potato, Beet & Bean Salad from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

Potato, beet & bean salad

     1 to 2 pounds baby potatoes
     1/2 pound fresh beans
     4 beets (golden or chioggia) 
     2 to 3 green onions
     1 bunch of fresh dill

     Honey Dijon Dressing:
     1 tbsp whole grain dijon
     1 tbsp honey
     2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
     1/2 cup olive oil
     1 tsp crushed garlic
     Salt & Pepper to taste

Steam the veggies. Chop into chunks. Chop onions & dill finely. 
Shake up a good dressing, pour and mix all together. 

August 23, 2011

Jack Layton's Gumdrop Cake

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.” 
                                                                                           –Jack Layton

Gumdrop Cake is not really the kind of thing I would normally bake. But I did it for Jack.

Food is my favorite way to remember loved ones who have passed on. I feel closest to my mom when I'm making her recipes and eating the foods she used to make (you’ll be seeing a lot of her recipes on this blog). This morning, I wanted to make a recipe in honor of Jack Layton who passed away yesterday. It turns out Gumdrop Cake is one of his all-time favorites. His grandmother used to make it as a special treat when he and his siblings would visit.

Like so many Canadians, I am deeply saddened and still reeling from the news of Jack’s passing. For the past 3 years, I've had the pleasure of living in his Toronto riding. It's been so amazing to have an MP that I can admire, respect, be inspired by, and who would so promptly respond to letters and let you know that your concerns had been heard. The news also weighs down on me because it was almost 2 years ago that I lost my mom to cancer. She was about the same age, a bit younger than Jack. Both were too young to die. Cancer has become such an epidemic. One of the reasons I chose to work in the environmental sector is because I believe, like my mom did, that the health of our planet is directly related to our own health and well-being. And if we want to win the fight against cancer as a society (and also get to eat delicious and uncontaminated foods) we need to fight against pollution first and foremost. This film really gets to the core of the cancer issue for me personally, so I thought I’d share the trailer here, even though it’s not directly food related.

But back to Gumdrop Cake. And Jack. What a politician, and what a man. It is such a huge loss for Canada, at a time when we badly need his leadership. But as he so eloquently says in his last letter, the future must be faced with love, hope, and optimism. To cheer you up a bit after that trailer, and get you warmed up for the cake recipe below, here’s an excerpt from This Hour Has 22 Minutes “Baking with Jack Layton”. Rest in peace Jack, and may there be an infinite supply of your grandmother’s gumdrop cake in heaven.

Jack Layton’s Gumdrop Cake (taken from the Globe and Mail)
3/4 lb gumdrops (omit black ones)
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
5 ml vanilla
1 egg
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup hot water
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon each salt, baking soda and nutmeg
Cut gumdrops if large. In a shallow bowl, dredge gumdrops, raisins and nuts in 1/2 cup flour. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add applesauce and hot water and mix well. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, salt, baking soda and nutmeg and add to sugar mixture. Fold in gumdrop mixture.
Pour into a well-greased tube pan or 9-by-5-inch pan lined with wax paper and well greased. Bake in a 275 F oven for 45 minutes. Increase temperature to 300 F and bake for 75 minutes. Let sit for several hours or overnight before cutting.

Man. I could have done some fun stop motion animations with those gumdrops, but no time for that this morning, off to work! Just a quick photo of the cake before it gets gobbled by my co-workers. (Looks quite Christmassy doesn't it?!)