Tag Archives: food

Sour Cherries Leave a Sweet Taste…

This may be one of my shortest blog posts ever!!! Rejoice all of you who secretly wish I would just “get to the point” (or the recipe) when I publish something :)! This is the story of me making sour cherry pie filling for the very first time in my entire life. Why did I wait so long to try make this? I dunno… I thought it would be long and difficult? I didn’t know how? It’s easy to buy it ready made? I never saw fresh sour cherries at the market before? Or maybe never noticed them before? Who knows… There is always a first for everything and this was mine. Ironic because cherry is my favourite pie ever. It so happens to land close second with the King, his numero uno desserts being apple baked in “everything”. It happens that it also was my father-in-law’s ultimate favourite pie of all times and I am always reminded of him when a cherry pie graces our dinner table. Fond memories indeed!

I was bumming around the farmer’s stall on the Byward Market (no surprise here) for my weekly fill of all the good stuf in season this past Saturday when I saw these shiny crimson red beauties. Next thing I knew, they were in my shopping basket. What to do, what to do??! My friend Google came to the rescue and to my surprise, site after site after site offered pretty much the same ingredients/steps. So I won’t really credit anyone here except that I settled on “AllRecipes.com” for the basic guidelines. As for the pastry well… Drum roll please, it is confession time: I am useless, completely useless at making pie dough. Sometimes it turns out and other times, it is a HUGE fiasco. I will never, ever share a “how to make pie dough” recipe on this site. Ever! Pie dough is my nemesis, pinky swear! I could tell you stories about pie crust disasters. And I can have a few friends tell you I am not exaggerating either. Like this one time when I had 24 tourtières to make for a catering order at a very busy time of year and I called my buddy Laura SC in tears at 10pm on a Saturday night because all I was ending up with were mountains of crumbs… But that is a story for another day. I said I would get to the point: so I used, instead of making from scratch, ta ta ta tum… wait for it… Frozen puff pastry. Yup, there, I’ve said it out loud! I used frozen puff pastry from the grocery store. Marvellous little invention I say :). So project sour cherry turnover was done in a jiffy with homemade from scratch sour cherry filling and frozen pastry dough. I think regular pie dough or puff pastry dough can be used interchangeably. Best damn sour cherry filling I ever had!

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Who can resist these hot, flaky pockets of sweetness?
Sour Cherry Pie Filling and Turnovers

All the recipes I came across in my Google searches offered pretty much the same ingredients in the same proportions. I added cinnamon, just because :).

What you need

  • 4 cups pitted fresh sour cherries (I used a traditional cherry/olive pitting tool)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • Egg wash or heavy cream
  • Optional: toasted almond and powder sugar crumble (instructions follow)

How to make it

  1. Rinse and using a little gadget or the tip of a paring knife, remove the pit from all the cherries
    Cherry pitting
    Cherry pitting
  2. Add the cherries to a heavy bottom pot.
    Time to feel the heat!
    Cooking sour cherries
  3. In a separate bowl, combine together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt
  4. Add to the cherries and mix well to coat evenly. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant silicone spatula or wooden spoon
    Coating well with sugar and cornstarch
    Adding sugar and cornstarch
  5. Once the mixture starts to thicken, reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the cherries have softened, anywhere between 6 to 10 minutes.
    Starting to bubble away
    Cooking sour cherries
  6. Remove from heat and let cool completely
  7. Once the filling is completely cooled off, you can make the turnovers
  8. Set oven to 400°F and place rack on the middle position
  9. Cut each pastry sheet in 9 squares. Prepare only one sheet at a time keeping the other sheet refrigerated until needed.
  10. Set a small amount of filling in the middle of each square, slightly wet the edges and fold in a triangle. Using a forks, seal the edges well.
    Stuff, fold, crinkle, repeat
    They are starting to look yummy!

    Resist the urge to overfill!
    Puff pastry squares getting a big scoop of cherry pie filling
  11. Place on baking sheet and brush with egg wash (1 egg yolk well mixed with a tablespoon of water) heavy cream if you have on hand.
  12. The turnovers are ready to bake. It will take 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep an eye on them after 10 minutes. They are ready when they have developed a deep golden colour. And maybe the filling will ooze out just like mine did, that’s okay: nothing that a fork can’t fix when it is time to eat
  13. You can top with an almond and powdered sugar crumble after the egg wash has been brushed on. To make the crumble, you will need about 1/2 cup toasted almonds and 3 tbsp powdered sugar whizzed through a food processor until it reaches a coarse and crumbly mixture. Pat a generous amount on top of each turnover. The baking time remains the same.

These are best eaten warm and right away! As if you could wait…

Time to devour!
This picture barely happened before the turnovers were chowed down!

Summer Parties Beg For Ice Cream Sandwiches!

It’s Thursday already which means that my vacation at the cottage is drawing  to an end way too quickly. I must vacate tomorrow afternoon to let a brand new set of vacationers come and bask in our idyllic setting.  I had promised myself days on end of uninterrupted blog writing and instead, I found myself scrambling for several days looking for inspiration… How ironic to now have the time to let my creativity flow and end up suffering from writer’s block while when I am at work, and have very little time to spare, my mind is full of ideas. I wanted to write a lot and to write something that would suck you right in, wanting to read bit more, maybe to read it all. In hopes of getting my pen and my mojo flowing, I settled in comfortably on the sun filled porch with several of my favourite cookbook authors, reading chapter upon chapter of what inspires them most and what sparks their culinary passions. Maybe by osmosis of the great ones, I could trigger some creativity of my own? I read about Dominique Ansel’s impressive rise to glory (he’s the Cronut guy from NYC) and how Rachel Roddy settled in Rome while searching to find something else in her life (she’s high up there on my list of faves). I read several chapters of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and his love affair with his old world, regretted not having brought along Mimi Thorrisson’s or David Lebovitz’s books and managed to get caught up on several past editions of Bon Appétit magazine, especially the latest few about summer everything! I am completely absorbed by cookbooks that read like novels, of stories of visits to farmer’s markets, fishmongers, butchers and bakeries. I love to read about that special second hand deep dish enamel glazed cast iron pot that was snatched up somewhere in a remote country side flea market and that now makes the perfect cassoulet. As I read and entered their world, it struck me how much we are the same. They are like old friends, whom you wish to linger with over a long stretched out meal, tossing dirty plates aside once emptied to be cleaned much later, sweeping breadcrumbs with the back of the hand, not wanting to leave the table while another bottle gets uncorked. At the root of each of these authors’ books are the memories of meals of their childhoods, of family gatherings and of dinners with friends, which inherently has always been the driving force behind my own love affair with food.

And so it came to me after reading pages and pages of meals served in bucolic settings or whipped up in tiny, awkward and poorly appointed kitchens. That is exactly what just happened this past weekend; whipping up meals for a huge crowd in a bucolic setting in an awkward kitchen!!! Instant inspiration! The King and I just crowned another successful family gathering at our cottage, an annual event that seems to grow each year as our young ones now have dates to share in the fun with. Although the weekend is a community effort of potluck dishes, snacks and desserts, my fun is to take over the big Saturday night feast. It takes me weeks to finally settle on the menu for the event and I love every minute of planning! Feeding crowds of hungry guests seem to come naturally to me… I remember exactly when I hosted my first grown up reception, it was in the summer of 1990. I set to make my first gastronomic meal for 10 wanting to showcase my beautiful new china, acquired barely a year prior when my King and I walked out of a church under a shower of confetti. To be frank, I don’t remember much of the menu details other than little smoke salmon and crème fraiche pumpernickel tartines and grilled shrimps with aioli served as appetizers. I know the cocktail was followed by a three course sit down meal yet I forget what I served. But what I remember, and what my guests remember (most are still part of my life) is the mood of that evening. It was a classy backyard affair, complete with our brand new «newlywed» china, silver and crystal. Tables were draped with flowing white tablecloths and little white lights and candles gave off a beautiful glow against the grapevine backdrop. It was the type of evening that lingers just so and you wish never to end… My own heart was conquered by the perfection of that night and I have since pursued to recreate the magic, often getting pretty darn close yet never quite fully capturing that exact vibe, as it often happens with «firsts». But close enough and just as recently as this past weekend, there was magic again in the air….

Feeding a lot of people is always a challenge, especially when you count on Mother Nature’s generous spirit to grace the event with perfect weather. Over the years I have learned that my minuscule cottage kitchen is amazing at feeding crowds and that using the rotisserie feature on the BBQ may seem like a bright idea but better kept for smaller more intimate dinner parties. I have learned that candles are absolutely necessary to bring magic to any table, even when it is dressed with a cheap plastic tablecloth and that planning a «make most of it ahead» menu guarantees I can partake with everyone from the get go. I have learned that renting dishes is amazing for the main feast and Royal Chinet is a crowd’s best friend for all the other meals. And lastly, I have learned that although many question the necessity of serving dessert when planning is under way (everyone is always watching their waistline), somehow homemade desserts disappear much, much faster than a plate of crudités!!! In keeping with my «make as much ahead as possible» philosophy, one of the desserts I chose to make this year were ice cream sandwiches from scratch. I decided that this handheld bundle of sweetness would be perfect for cottage life and would please all age groups. My chocolate chip cookies already having a near cult following, a recipe I have adapted from a Martha Stewart original, they would be the perfect vehicle to carry big scoops of homemade ice cream. It was also high time I put my lovely ice cream machine to good use: having stored it away after moving from the big house to the smaller apartment 3 years ago. I suddenly had a light bulb moment: this machine would serve us all much better at the cottage where frozen treats are highly favoured but transporting them from grocery store to the lake can be a bit of a gamble. Why have I not thought of this sooner??? The ice cream machine now has a new home and it has been used more often this summer than in the past 4 or 5 years since it has been purchased. And so project ice cream sandwich it was! Made in advance and appreciated by happy guests, it was the perfect dessert for this crowd!

My tip to you: plan ahead. It is nearly impossible to make ice cream in one day. Unless you own a commercial machine or blast chiller, time is your very best friend and most important ingredient. If you make a custard type ice cream, as in the recipes that follow, you will need a good solid 12 hours of chilling time once the custard is cooked. The churning vessel from your machine probably needs a good 24 hours in the freezer to freeze properly. Once your ice cream has churned, it benefits from spending another several hours in the freezer to solidify although it is ready to spoon on the cookies immediately. Once filled, the sandwiches will also need a bit of time in the freezer to firm up. The cookies should be made ahead as well. Although the cookie recipe I present to you is awesome and makes a huge batch, any favourite cookie recipe of your own collection will pair well with ice cream. Just remember that it is easier to eat a sandwich made with thin cookies… Then again, messes are fun too and cookies with ice cream are a match made in heaven regardless of the cookie flavour, thickness or size. Have fun! But beware, you may start something in your household that could result in begging for you to make more of and more often!

This post offers 3 recipes and each does not need the other to de devoured but magic sure happens when they are combined together! Making ice cream is not complicated but I will not sugar coat it:  it is a project that requires time and planning. The rest is as easy as making a batch of cookies and cooking a custard.

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Sweet stack

THIN CRISPY-CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Adapted from an original recipe by Martha Stewart

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Ingredient line-up
What you need

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 cups butter, softened
  • 3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups chocolate chips

How to make it

  1. Heat your oven to 350°F and line sheet with parchment paper
  2. Mix together flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar
  3. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until combined and fluffy
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and then vanilla until well blended
  5. Add flour and beat on low until just blended
  6. Add chocolate chips and beat until well combined
  7. Drop on cookie sheets, 2-3 tbsp of batter, (I use a medium ice cream scoop) and spread about inches apart. The high butter content of these cookies will make them spread a fair bit. It is best not to crowd your baking sheet.
  8. Flatten each mound slightly by wetting hands with cold water which will prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers
  9. Bake 12-16 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely.

Notes:

  • If the batter spreads too quickly in the oven and looks like the butter is oozing out, it is a sign that your oven is too hot. It is wise to invest in an oven thermometer as each oven has its own personality. Some ovens allow thermometer adjustments while others don’t. Exact oven temperature is more important when baking. Cooking or roasting are a temperature are a bit more forgiving. Manufacturers have online
  • Salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably, each offering a subtle flavour variation
  • This batch makes a ton of cookies, maybe 60 or so. You can shape the cookies and freeze the raw dough in individual portions, pulling out a few cookie «pucks» as needed and have freshly baked cookies on a whim.
  • The recipe can be halved
  • Once baked, the cookies can also be frozen
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    They can be individually frozen at this stage and pulled out when craving warm homemade chocolate chip cookies!
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Hard to resist…

VANILLA ICE CREAM

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Churned just right…
This recipe is based on a traditional custard type ice cream, which yields a super rich and unctuous frozen dessert. Because the base is cooked, it is best to prepare one day ahead and chill thoroughly overnight for best results.

To fill all the cookies, you will need 2 batches of ice cream. I opted for variety and made both chocolate and vanilla.

What you need

  • 1½ cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream)
  • 2½ cups milk (avoid non fat milk)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 pod of fresh vanilla or 2 tsp real vanilla extract

How to make it

  1. If you are using a machine fitted with a liquid filled vessel, make sure you set it to freeze at least 24 hours before you need to churn your ice cream.
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the white. You can save the egg whites for another recipe such as meringue or egg white omelet. Egg whited freeze very well.
  3. Pour the cream and milk in a deep casserole with a heavy bottom, whisk in ¼ cup of the sugar and the salt.
  4. Split the vanilla pod in the center and using the tip of the knife, scrape the paste and whisk into the milk. Add in the leftover pod as well.
  5. On medium heat, cook until it starts to foam slightly on the edges, stirring frequently with a heat proof rubber spatula to ensure the milk doesn’t burn at the bottom.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  7. Once the cream mixture has heated up, temper the egg yolks by slowly incorporating a bit of hot cream. To achieve this, make sure your bowl is secured onto your work surface. I like to settle my bowl onto a wet dishcloth. Using a whisk in one hand and a ladle in the other, vigorously whisk the eggs while incorporating a trickle of hot cream slowly but steadily. Proceed this way until half the milk has been incorporated into the eggs. The preparation should be smooth and grit free. If the preparation looks grainy or full of little lumps, you need to start again: it means the yolks have started cooking before emulsifying with the hot cream. Some like to use a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment which frees up their hand to control the addition of hot milk better. I find that taking my time and pouring just a bit of hot milk at a time works just as well. Chose a technique that better suit your needs.
  8. Once your eggs have been tempered with half of the hot milk, pour back into the casserole into the remaining hot cream while whisking.
  9. Cook over medium to medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just about to start to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and pour over a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof bowl. Let cool slightly, cover the entire surface with plastic wrap of parchment paper to avoid the formation of a crust.
  10. Once cooled enough, chill in the fridge for a good 12 hours. You can reduce the chilling time by placing the custard in the freezer for a few hours: just remember to stir frequently to cool evenly.
  11. Churning: once the vessel is frozen solid and the custard completely chilled, set your ice cream to churn according to your appliance’s instructions. I own a Cuisinart and the machine is pretty straight forward: place custard in the vessel, add churning blade, cover and turn on. There are no other speeds. It takes about 30-35 minutes of churning.
  12. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, leave the ice cream in the churning vessel as you assemble your sandwiches. The vessel is still frozen enough to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Set an opened container in the freezer and build 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, placing them in the freezer as soon as each is assembled
  13. If you do not plan on making ice cream sandwiches, then once the churning is completed, transfer the mixture to another container, cover the surface well with plastic wrap and set to freeze a little longer, maybe 3-4 hours more before serving. The plastic wrap prevents the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream and also prevents the ice cream from absorbing unwanted “freezer flavour”.

INTENSELY CHOCOLATEY ICE CREAM

The recipe is slightly different than the vanilla ice cream recipe.

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Chocolatey goodness!
What you need

  • 1½ cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream)
  • 2½ cups milk (avoid non fat milk)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar, divided in 2
  • ½ cup dark cocoa powder*
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp real vanilla extract

*Since cocoa powder is the star ingredient in making a rich and chocolatey ice cream, I recommend a good splurge on a high quality cocoa.

How to make it

If you are using a machine fitted with a liquid filled vessel, make sure you set it to freeze at least 24 hours before you need to churn your ice cream.

  1. Separate the egg yolks from the white. You can save the egg whites for another recipe such as meringue or egg white omelet. Egg whited freeze very well.
  2. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, ½ cup of sugar, salt and 1 cup of milk until smooth, set aside
  3. Pour the cream and remaining milk in a deep casserole with a heavy bottom. Add vanilla
  4. On medium heat, cook until it starts to foam slightly on the edges, stirring frequently with a heat proof rubber spatula to ensure the milk doesn’t burn at the bottom.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  6. Once the cream mixture has heated up, temper the egg yolks by slowly incorporating a bit of hot liquid. To achieve this, make sure your bowl is secured onto your work surface. I like to settle my bowl onto a wet dishcloth. Using a whisk in one hand and a ladle in the other, vigorously whisk the eggs while incorporating a trickle of hot cream slowly but steadily. Proceed this way until all the milk has been incorporated into the eggs. The preparation should be smooth and grit free. If the preparation looks grainy or full of little lumps, you need to start again: it means the yolks have started cooking before emulsifying with the hot cream. Some like to use a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment which frees up their hand to control the addition of hot milk better. I find that taking my time and pouring just a bit of hot milk at a time works just as well. Chose a technique that better suit your needs.
  7. Once your eggs have been tempered with half of the hot milk, pour back into the casserole into the remaining hot cream while whisking. Whisk in the cocoa/milk mixture.
  8. Cook over medium to medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just about to start to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and pour over a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof bowl. Let cool slightly, cover the entire surface with plastic wrap of parchment paper to avoid the formation of a crust.
  9. Once cooled enough, chill in the fridge for a good 12 hours.You can reduce the chilling time by placing the custard in the freezer for a few hours: just remember to stir frequently to cool evenly.
  10. Churning: once the vessel is frozen solid and the custard completely chilled, set your ice cream to churn according to your appliance’s instructions. I own a Cuisinart and the machine is pretty straight forward: place custard in the vessel, add churning blade, cover and turn on. There are no other speeds. It takes about 30-35 minutes of churning.
  11. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, leave the ice cream in the churning vessel as you assemble your sandwiches. The vessel is still frozen enough to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Set an opened container in the freezer and build 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, placing them in the freezer as soon as each is assembled
  12. If you do not plan on making ice cream sandwiches, then once the churning is completed, transfer the mixture to another container, cover the surface well with plastic wrap and set to freeze a little longer, maybe 3-4 hours more before serving. The plastic wrap prevents the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream and also prevents the ice cream from absorbing unwanted “freezer flavour”.

Epilogue: these ice cream sandwiches are huge! And although at first the sheer size of them light a spark of delight in the recipients’ eyes, we all agreed that a half went a long way to satisfy. Therefore, I recommend cutting in half before serving. And since we had both chocolate and vanilla to chose from, those with a really sweet tooth could enjoy a half of each, back to back.

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Ready for one last chill!

When life offers you lemons…

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Don’t just limit the fun to lemonade!

Quite frankly, the day could not have announced itself with any more majesty than it had at that particular moment! Watching the sun rise, at first peeking timidly from behind Mount Vesuvius to suddenly quickly ascend to its full early morning glory was more than I had hoped for. Wow, what a scene and hurray for the early bird that I was!  Yes, this sunrise was maybe a tad more spectacular than most I’ve had the privilege to see in my life. The simple fact that I was on a beautifully appointed cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean may also have played a role in the euphoric mood of the moment… I just knew this was going to be another epic day! I stood on deck for a bit as the ship slowly made its way to port, welcoming the site of Naples with the giddiness of a school girl who’s about to wear her prom dress for the first time. I needed to share this moment with my King and flew down several flights of stairs to reach my cabin, barely touching the lush carpet under my feet. I just couldn’t wait to start exploring!image

From the moment we reached Salerno, our hearts were conquered and we fell head over heels in love with the land of lemon groves… Although we reached Salerno by tour bus, we were about to discover the Amalfi Coast by water. It was… Words escape me… Even two years later, as I write this post… I feel transported in that special moment in time. You know that feeling? When you are living an epic moment that is causing  your insides to flip and flop all over in sheer joy? When you need to pinch yourself to make sure you are actually wide awake and not dreaming? Yes, it was that surreal feeling that was taking over my entire being as we bobbled along the rugged coast line under the most spectacular azure blue sky. If I could have made time stand still forever, I think it would have been right there and then. We were feeling ageless and privileged: youth exploding from our pores, our skin glowing from sun and love and contentment.image

The town of Amalfi added to our awe and bliss of the moment. From the water, we had marvelled at the artfully layered terraces  of lemon trees, carved right into the rocky and steep mountain sides, the fruits so plentiful you could see them in the distance. As if an impressionist had purposely dabbed the greenery with a shower of yellow polka dots. Beyond the picturesque mosaic tiled roofs, beyond the old world charm, beyond the gazillion photo ops of weathered wooden shutters & narrow alleyways, it is the mighty lemon that stands tall and proud in this beautiful region. Amalfi oozes lemon everything: freshly picked lemons the size of oranges, lemon scented soaps, perfumes, desserts, gelato, pastries, Limoncello… Lemons are painted on canvas, on ceramic tiles, on paper… They adorned salt and pepper shakers and every possible kitsch plastic tourist souvenir from Amalfi “made in China”. Lemons, lemons, lemons everywhere. But if you must indulge in anything lemony, then nothing is more Amalfi “lemon authentic” than “delizie al limone” (lemon delight), a dome shaped dessert made of layers of genoise cake drenched in Limoncello and covered in sweet lemon cream. No one twisted our arms as we selected a prime seat at a little terrace in direct sight of the famous Amalfi church. We gleefully dug into a serving of this lovely cake, sharing an ice cold shot of Limoncello (obliged to partake, even at 10 am) and a semifreddo cafè crema, probably paying way more than we should have but not caring one iota! Our one-and-a-half-hour stop was merely a tease as we would have easily spent several days somewhere along this coast, basking in the warm sun and making our way through lemon scented menus…

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Although there are recipes online, I have not even attempted to recreate the scrumptious lemon delight cake of Amalfi. And I don’t really want to. Nope, these little creamy domes are not meant to be baked in my Canadian kitchen; they belong elsewhere. They are part of that travelling experience. I would rather visit again hoping to relive the joy of that moment, including a side of cold Limoncello and a view of mosaic tile roofs…

I am transported back to that magical place every time I grab a handful of beautiful lemons, especially when they come with a few leaves… I may not bake Amalfi Coast lemon delights but I hold my own with a few luscious lemon dessert recipes. Like these easy one pan lemon squares for instance: a shortbread crust topped with a rich and creamy lemon topping. They resemble nothing you would find in an Italian Pasticceria: they are truly a North American creation originating in the United States Midwest. According to my research, this popular dessert could very well be the brain child of the Betty Crocker™ Brand… But that is what the internet says sooooooo, may not be entirely true. Well regardless of where and when, these little squares are now hugely popular, many families handing their own recipe from generation to generation.  I find they are the perfect summer picnic/potluck/BBQ contribution because they can tolerate the lack of refrigeration for a while. They have the right balance of crunchy & creamy, tart & sweet. Refreshing too!  I have had this recipe for so long I now forget where it comes from. I wish I could give credit to the source of such wonderfulness so whoever you are, thank you!  And I love you and my family loves you and my friends love and I’m pretty sure the readers of this blog now love you too!!!

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LEMON SQUARES

What you need

For the Crust

  • ¾ cup butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp icing sugar

How to make it

  1. Heat oven at 325°F
  2. Grease 9X13 pan and line with parchment paper extending over long edges for handles. Then grease the sides only of the parchment paper well. It is not necessary to grease the bottom
  3. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Stir in flour in 2 additions. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and let cool in pan
  4. Topping: in bowl, beat together eggs with sugar until pale and thickened. Beat in lemon juice and zest, flour and baking powder. Pour over baked base, spreading evenly. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and center is set
  5. Let cool in pan on rack. Then refrigerate until very cold before removing from pan
  6. Gently peel the parchment paper and generously dust with icing sugar
  7. Cut into 12 squares (or more if you prefer)image

 

 

A Celebration of Old Classics: Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

Harvesting Dinner is barely two years old and I have enjoyed writing every single post!While I jumped in blindly with little direction, knowing only that I wanted to share my insane attraction to our edible world by writing recipes, telling little stories about my life, sharing the joys of eating out or the effects of eating too much, I didn’t know what personality this little diary of mine would take on. If I were to choose a new name, I may be tempted to select something like “Heritage Kitchen”, “Legacy Cooking” or “A Mother’s Pantry”, which would surely better capture the essence of this blog… I seem to gravitate towards heirloom recipes and stories; I am inherently attracted to the cooking of the mothers in my life… I love the mixed heritage of my kitchen where French Canadian, French (from France) and East European all collide with international cuisines! And I am deeply rooted to my family’s origins through the traditions and knowledge these humble home cooks have imparted on me. In my home, I tend to prepare the simple yet comforting dishes of everyday cooking when a budget needs to be respected and time is often elusive. Although I have the expertise to take on intricate recipes and I do enjoy cooking elaborate meals from time to time, this type of cooking does not portray what goes on in my everyday kitchen which is the one I share with you most often. I will seldom post dishes that require extremely elaborate preparations within this blog unless I decide to share a culinary experience that is well worth it. As simple as it is, my cooking is no less inviting: it is all about awesomely good food, warm & comforting, served with love and abundance, to enjoy in the presence of people who truly matter. Whether it is a simple weeknight tête-à-tête with the King , a small gathering of the family or a grand celebration, I aim to serve foods that beg for seconds and “take home” care packages. I also like to «be» with my peeps at mealtime and I will favour dishes that can be prepared ahead so that I am free to partake in all the conversations that are happening at the dinner table. I am definitely the queen of one pot dinners, of tough pieces of meat bubbling away  softly in a fragrant broth until they render their full potential and fall off the fork tender. I love simmered dishes the most: those that fill the house with mouth-watering aromas for hours until you can’t stand it any longer and must dig in. I also enjoy the carefree approach to summer grilling paired with fresh produces enhanced with perfectly balanced vinaigrettes.

I do favour simple cooking over intricate, that is for sure.  Yet, simple does not necessarily mean quick! There are times when you just need to soak things overnight, simmer all day or spread the prep over a day or two… The time spent preparing a meal is not a reflection of how difficult the recipe is; it simple means that the recipe requires a bit more planning. For me, simple cooking also means familiar: food prepared with “easy to find” ingredients (not too many) that are budget friendly. I love old classics and appreciate having been taught the rudiments of French cuisine: I can whip up a great hollandaise, make my own mayo, serve a silky smooth sabayon and bake bread. And although I often refer back to recipes for proportion, especially when it comes to baking, I can make a bechamel sauce without even taking a peek into a book!

One classic preparation I am particularly thrilled I have learned to master are crêpes; they are so versatile! They really are easy to make: the most difficult part of making crêpes (if one can call this difficult) is knowing how much batter to pour into the pan to ensure the right thickness and size. It really isn’t that hard: I always mess up the first one which I am sure I subconsciously do on purpose so that I can eat a hot crêpe right away!!! There are many things I love about crêpes: they can be done in advance, they can be sweet or savoury, they can be served hot or cold, they can be filled, rolled or drenched in syrups, whatever your fancy! They are neutral enough to be a perfect vehicle to an infinite combinations of ingredients yet are just as delicious sprinkled lightly with sugar… What matters most to make really great crêpes is time: the batter really needs to “relax” in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. It only takes about 10 minutes to whip a batter up in a food processor or a blender and just a tiny bit longer if you have to whisk everything by hand. What takes the longest is the cooking time as each crêpe must be done individually. There are pans that are specifically designed to make crêpes and they work extremely well. However, any good old frying pan you have on hand will do. I made crêpes for decades before I splurged and bought a crêpe pan…

This savoury crêpe recipe I am about to share with you is a long time family classic. It does require planning and involves several steps but none of them are difficult. What I like best about this particular recipe is that it can be prepared entirely in advance AND the ingredients are easy to find. Simply pop it in the oven one hour before serving. Pair with a nice crisp salad and you have a festive meal that will make your guests very happy!

I recently made this dish and took the opportunity to take plenty of pictures at every stage. Then our guests arrived and ya know, we got into cocktails and instant conversation… I was way too happy being with my friends than hidden in the kitchen and not only did I completely forget to set my timer, I also forgot to check in on the crêpes! A lovely intense smell of melted Gruyère eventually got my attention and as a result, I over baked the crêpes by a good 35 minutes. The verdict? Although the crêpes were still very delicious, they had absorbed most of the sauce. I hesitated to add the final picture because it should be much saucier but then I figured that mistakes happen even with the best of techniques and planning. So expect a saucier dish if you decide to make this recipe: that is how it should be 🙂

Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

This recipe serves 4 and can easily be doubled (I always double, left overs are great!)

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The result of overbaking: a little «dry» yet still delicious

 

Part 1 – Crêpe Batter

What you need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (250ml)
  • 1 cup milk (250ml)
  • 1/2 cup water (maybe a bit more) (125ml)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (2.5ml)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (30ml) plus 1/4 cup (65ml) melted butter for cooking

How to make it:

  1. Using a food processor, blend together the eggs, flour, milk, water and salt until well blended. With motor still running, pour in the melted butter and whip until well blended.
  2. Transfer batter in a jug or a bowl, cover and refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.
  3. Making the crêpes: strain the batter using a small sieve to remove any lumps. The batter should be silky smooth. Add  water if the batter is too thick, a little bit at a time: it should have the consistency of buttermilk or hollandaise.
  4. Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, coat the pan with a small film of butter. Drop about 1/2 cup of batter in the pan spreading quickly by tilting the pan in a swirl motion. How to video, click here
  5. Once all your crêpes are done, set them aside. You can stack crêpes in a plate, they will not stick together. Crêpes can also be done a day ahead and refrigerated : simply wrap very well with plastic wrap to avoid drying and refrigerate. Crêpes also do well in the freezer for a few weeks.image

Part 2 – Chicken and asparagus filling

What you need

  • 2 large chicken breast, with skin and bones
  • 1 onion, peeled and left whole
  • 2 carrots, peeled and left whole
  • 3 celery branches, with leaves if possible
  • 2 bay eaves
  • 1 tbsp salt (15ml)
  • 1 tsp pepper (5ml)
  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • 2 shallots finely chopped (or 1/2 cooking onion)
  • 1/4 cup butter (65ml)
  • 1/4 cup flour (65ml)
  • 4 cups milk (1l)
  • 1 tsp salt (5ml)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (fine grind)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, 35% (180ml)
  • 2 cups grated Gruyère* cheese (500ml)

*Swiss cheese will do but Gruyère really takes it to the next level… If you can splurge 🙂

How to make it

  1. Cook the chicken: In a large stock pot, place chicken, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add just enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a full boil on high heat, then reduce heat and cook over a gentle boil, partially covered. the chicken should take about 30-40 minutes to cook through.
  2. Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool before removing the skin and bones.
  3. Meanwhile, discard the celery and onion from broth. Remove the carrots and set aside. Strain the broth in a fine mesh sieve. Return carrots to broth and save for another time. The broth will not be needed in this recipe
  4. Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove skin and bones. Chop meat into cubes: this should yield 3-4 cups of chicken (750-1000ml). This variation will not impact the recipe much. Refrigerate
  5. Set a pot to boil filled with plenty of salted water
  6. Chop the shallots and grate the cheese
  7. Prepare the asparagus: clean well snap off the hard woody part off the stem, normally a lighter green that the rest of the asparagus. Cut asparagus in pieces about 1 inch long (2-3cm). Once the water is at a full rolling boil, add the asparagus. They will cook very quickly. I find that they are done once the water reaches the boiling point again, usually 3-4 minutes. As soon as the water starts boiling again, strain the asparagus and immediately immerse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Change the water frequently until the asparagus have cooled, strain and reserve.
  8. Make the bechamel sauce: in a mid-size saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to foam slightly. Add the shallots (or onions) and cook until translucent 1-2 minutes. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for an additional 23 minutes. The only trick here is that you want the flour to cook without browning. Slowly start pouring in the milk, whisking well as you incorporate. I usually add about half first, whisk well and then pour in the rest. To avoid lumps, it is best to use cold milk. Because this bechamel has shallots in it, you will not be able to strain it to remove the lumps. Add salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce reaches a soft boil and it has started to thicken. Remove from heat, whisk in the heavy cream. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap by sticking directly onto the sauce to prevent a crust from forming. Set aside to cool.image

Assembly:

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This is a double batch
  1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, the asparagus, 1 cup of cheese and just enough bechamel (about half) to moisten the preparation.image
  2. If you plan on baking right away, preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Butter the sides and bottom of a large casserole dish, like a lasagna dish for example. If you do not own a large dish, use two smaller ones.
  4. Spread the filling evenly between each crêpe. Roll by first folding the left and right side towards the middle, then rolling to close. Place the crêpes seam down in the baking dish. Do not stack crêpes on top of one another: if you run out of room, it is best tu use a second baking dish.image
  5. Spread the remaining bechamel evenly over the crêpes, sprinkle with cheeseimage
  6. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the cheese starts to take on a golden hue and bubbles lightly at the edges
  7. Let sit 10 minutes before serving

Notes:

  • The baking time may need to be increased slightly if the crêpes have been refrigerated
  • The entire dish can be prepared a day in advance, which makes it a great party dish!
  • This dish also freezes very well: freeze in individual portions for easy weeknight dinnersimage

 

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Some days dinner should be simple, like a sandwich or something. That is what I was hoping for last night but I had some fresh local zucchini beauties I needed to use up and there was a pack of chicken thighs already defrosted in the fridge. Sigh… I was not in the mood… Mood or not, I really had to find my mojo and get cooking. What to do, what to do??? Too lazy to browse through my collection of recipes saved everywhere: online, on paper, bookmarked, in magazines, in e-mails… Too tired to want to try something totally new… I also wanted to cook something that wouldn’t radically bust the calorie count; I didn’t want to ruin my “9km walking dowtown” day. Soooo, I opted for familiar with what I had on hand: onions, zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers and parmesan. A never fail pairing with chicken. The combo worked and by the time I had my ingredients sorted out, I found my second wind. It smelled divine in the house and we couldn’t wait to dig in.  I served myself just a little wee bit of pasta but the King, who has been blessed with a “piss me off” good metabolism, piled it on his plate with reckless abandon (his plate in the picture). I drooled with envy over his copious serving and cursed the gods of curvy bodies… He gobbled it up with a guilt-free conscience,  adding a few slices of über fresh sourdough bread from Bread and Sons, generously slathered with a thick coating of  Riviera Salted Butter (my new heart throb). Lucky man… Not fair… He had seconds… I went to water my plants lol!

Ok, enough with the pity party!! I could have ended up with a hard boiled egg and a sliced tomato… Instead, I got to enjoy a respectable serving of this really yummy and healthy meal! I hope this recipe inspires you: the instructions may seem long but I added a lot of details to help those who are really new in the kitchen. Don’t be intimidated, this meal is super easy to make…

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Because nothing evokes the Med life better than tomatoes, zucchinis and garlic simmering together…

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What you need:

  • 5 good size zucchinis, diced in big chunks
  • 1 generous tbsp olive oil
  • pepper
  • 6-8 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red, yellow or orange sweet pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 big tomato, diced
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • pasta or rice, enough for 4 servings (optiona)
  • grated parmesan

How to make it: 

I roasted the zucchinis first while I prepped the rest. It does cut some of the cooking time a bit plus add just that umph of flavour. I was able to cook everything else while the zucchinis were taking on a nice roasted flavour. I like to crank my oven up to 450F on convect roast to get a good char going on… For more ideas on how to maximize the use of your oven, I invite you to read an older post dedicated to this subject. You can skip this step and add the zucchinis with the onions and peppers at step 6.

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set grill rack to the upper middle position
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Toss the zucchinis with olive oil and pepper. Spread even,y on baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis will be ready when they start to have a nice brown outer edge
  3. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tsp salt and some coarse ground pepper. Add to the chicken and coat well, set aside
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large and deep skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat; add the chicken, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes on each side. You want to achieve a nice golden crust and cook the inside without over cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the onions, sweet peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Gather the remaining ingredients. Set your water to boil if you are cooking pasta or get started on the rice
  6. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Add the onions and peppers to the pan. You shouldn’t need any additional oil. Sauté until the vegetables start to caramelize then add the garlic and oregano. Toss a round a little until the garlic starts to soften without browning. If using, add the white wine and cook down until nearly all evaporated, 3-5 minutes. If you are not using wine, skip to the next step
  7. Check on the zucchinis… If they have a nice brown colour and have softened, they are ready to pull out of the oven
  8. To the skillet, once the wine has reduced, add the fresh & canned tomatoes and the  tomato paste. Stir to mix well.
  9. Add the zucchinis, stir and taste for seasoning. I added 1tsp of salt and some black pepper
  10. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables without burying completely in the sauce. Bring to a gently bubbling simmer, cover and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes
  11. While the chicken is simmering, cook the pasta or rice (optional)

Serve with a generous shower of freshly grated Parmesan although asagio, and romano would be honourable substitutes and fresh mozza, crumbled feta or goat cheese would easily enhance as well.  Everyone is happy 🙂

Side note: if in Ottawa, you must visit Bread and Sons on Bank Street, it is worth discovering!  I am not receiving compensation from these businesses, just sharing my appreciation for what they offer.

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In My Backyard: The Sandy Hill Lounge And Grill

This little neighborhood “Cheers like” spot sits smack bang in the middle of Sandy Hill, at the corner of Somerset East and Blackburn. Around the University of Ottawa campus, there aren’t too many decent eateries that are walking distance from our fairly densely populated area of town. Beyond the student crowd, Sandy Hill is a melting pot of young professionals, families, seniors, diplomats and city living.  Although most joints found alongside Laurier East near the University and the south side of King Edward service the needs of an ever-growing student population, The Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill seems to be the one establishment that continues to caters to a more diverse clientele.

We moved back to the area 3 years ago after a long, long haul in the burbs. We were excited to discover “The SHLAG” as it is lovingly called by the locals. A tiny little spot nestled on the first floor of a typical downtown brownstone apartment building. This place had a cool vibe complete with super affordable beer, really tasty & fresh food and awesome staff. It had been home to several other restaurants over the years but the current Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill has been a mainstay now for quite some time. We fell in love with it instantly and it quickly became our favourite and regular go to dining/watering hole. We brought friends, family and told everyone about SHLAG!!! It was a really happy place… SHLAG has always been super famous for its Molly Burger: a mammoth burger catering to extremely ravenous appetites, consisting of two patties stuffed with some wild combination of ingredients. Everyone loved the Molly Burger and its crazy attitude! And for the less adventurous, there was always the Super Fun Happy Bacon & Cheese Burger, a standard yet still pretty massive burger. If you wanted to sway off the beaten path, the Butter Chicken Poutine served on sweet potato fries had a cult following! And if that didn’t turn your crank, then the Cajun Marinated Chicken sandwich, the famous Tug Boat or the Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf would sure satisfy. The appies were always top-notch, especially the deep-fried pickles and the crab cakes. Everything was served with pride with an accent on local and  homemade.

Then, something happened. I don’t really know when and why. The mood changed; it was barely perceptible at a first. From having to wait at the door for a seat on weekends to find ourselves «luckily» grabbing the last table at prime time to having our pick of where to sit, it seems the crowds were slowly receding. From being served really awesome food every single time, we started to notice some slips…  It started with a change of menu which sadly got rid of some big favourites such as the Butter Chicken poutine… The food was not always up to par and neither was the quality of the ingredients. In the past year alone, the menu has changed 3 times yet it is not inspiring, it is difficult to read and quite frankly, not really worth ordering from. Most appetizers are now your run of the mill commercially prepared product which arrive frozen and ready to be deep-fried. Zucchini sticks, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, mozza sticks for instance are pre-made junk… The daily specials are inconsistent and will disappoint more often than they will please. The owner insists on hosting a Cajun Friday yet neither he nor his cook seems to have any real knowledge of Cajun cooking. I have tried several of the Cajun offerings which can  not be compared with Louisiana cuisine.  Over the past year, the quality of the food has slipped so drastically that we have stopped going regularly. Sadly, the owner doesn’t seem very receptive to suggestion or criticism, even when the comments are made in a positive manner like «we love this place but…» As a matter of fact, I do take offence that he never, ever acknowledges us when we come in.

From 3-4 visits per month (it was our Friday night ritual), we have reduced our visits to once every 2 months or so. We only go when we do not feel like going far from home yet do not feel like ordering take out. Just this past Friday evening, having not visited a several weeks, we decided to chance it: we arrived around 7pm and were surprised to find the joint quite deserted… Then again, it is not hard to see why it would be empty: beyond the decline of the food, the place needs a major scrub and update. The entire restaurant is tired and the staff is no longer fully engaged… Anyhow, I was in the mood for a burger and to my delight, Friday evening’s Cajun specials offered sliders topped with Swiss cheese and jalapeno. Now beside the fact that I have no idea how sliders with Swiss cheese make the cut under the Cajun influenced menu, I was really happy to have the choice of ordering what seemed to be a more «girly girl» size burger! We were the only table to order food, just the King and I. Yet, it took about 30 minutes for our meals to arrive; The King had ordered the Super Fun Burger, so it is not quite clear what  caused the delay… Looking at my plate, I found it odd to see the Swiss cheese stick out of the buns as solid as if it had just been pulled out of the fridge. I lifted the bread up to investigate and to my surprise, not only was I staring at mini pre-made patties (from frozen) but still raw and cold to boot. There is no reasonable explanation for this miss from the kitchen seeing the lack of clientele in the restaurant. Sure, our server was apologetic (not his fault) and the meal was replaced. And we enjoyed and overall discount of 10%, which was very, very nice. Having said that, my hubby had completely finished his meal by the time my plate was delivered. I didn’t make a fuss and the meal was fine (the fresh-cut fries are always good) yet I just shake my head at this kind of poor delivery on the part of the cook. The King, who has a very sweet tooth, ordered the featured dessert;  a weird concoction of pies baked within cakes and stacked several layers high (featured picture) which was surprisingly good! But a good dessert doesn’t a meal make and honestly, we miss the old SHLAG when the food was all homemade and always delicious…  And we miss some of our former servers who made us feel welcome every single time and were absolutely awesome! Yet, we somehow faithfully return,  just not as often…  Our running gag is this Love/Hate relationship we have with SHLAG these days.  But as the King says: if you stick to the burger, fries and a jug of beer, you will have a fantastic evening :). As for me, quite frankly, I keep hoping to find the old SHLAG back, in all its former glory!

When fall returns to haunt June weekends… Fragrant Moroccan Chicken Stew

Note: this dish can be entirely adapted to accommodate a vegetarian diet. In lieu of chicken, double up on the chickpeas and replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

It’s been cold, damp, windy and simply unspring like over the past few days… You are not playing nice Mother Nature! This kind of weather begs for a warm hearty serving of some sort of simmer. Not that I necessarily wait for cooler days to make this beautifully fragrant dish: I do not own a BBQ in my city home therefore summer grilling is reserved for the cottage. I must admit that not having a BBQ at home is a bit of a challenge, especially when the mercury hits the sizzling hot zone. On those days, I wish I could simply throw a chunk of meat of the grill, serve it with a huge salad and call it a day. Easy grilling days not being a dinner option in the city, my stovetop remains my “go-to” cooking tool, even in the middle of the summer. When the work days wipe any dinner creative energy out of me, on those days, our go-to easy summer meal is more likely to be a sandwich or an omelet. And I am very grateful for air conditioning which permits me to cook with abandon using a hot stove or oven even during heat waves.

For the most part, I cook a full meal nearly every night of the week. Well, ok, maybe not every night, that would be a slight exaggeration! I often tend to make enough to have left overs for at least a second meal… Sometimes we even get tired of eating the same stuff a few days in a row… Oh well, even though he is The King, he can’t expect to eat like one every single day!!! Like come on now, a girl needs to do other things once in while other than working and cooking right? Although Jamie Oliver and a few others try to makes us believe a fully cooked dinner from scratch can be dished out in 15 minutes, I beg to differ. There is absolutely no such thing as a 15 minute meal unless there are little minions living in your house who gather ingredients, portion the meats, wash all the produce, take out all the required ingredients and clean up the entire mess after you. I have no such minions, do you? I consider myself a pretty skilled cook, with solid organization and planning strategies. I can handle a knife with certain ease (although not a pro) yet dinner prep in my house averages at about 1 hour. I clean up as I go usually leaving only the service dishes and pots for the after dinner clean up crew (luckily, I have one of those). I do not mind that 1 hour prep time at all. I never set myself up for disappointment since I never, ever expect to make a meal under an hour… Except when there are recipes such as this Moroccan Chicken Stew! So simple and so easy to throw together that you wonder why you don’t make it more often!!! This one truly takes maybe up to 30 minutes to assemble including prep AND cleaning up as you go. And then, it takes maybe 30 minutes to cook (which allows me plenty of time to check what is going on in the world via my beloved I-Pad). When I last made this dish, it was ready to serve in less than one hour; almost faster than firing up the grills!

In Morocco, the weather is warm nearly year round and although they can whip up some fantastic grilled meats, some of their most famous dishes are slow simmers using tagines. Tagines are clay cooking pots with lovely cone shaped lids which allow the steam to build up, get caught up at the top of the cone, condense again and the trickle back down to the food, constantly bathing what is cooking inside and infusing all the flavours and aromas. I do not own a tagine (yet) but I have had the pleasure of eating delicious Moroccan food cooked in this traditional utensil. So even though the weather is very hot in Morocco, I bet these stews are popular not only because they are so delicious but most likely because they are very economical to make: they yield large portions of food using humble ingredients while showcasing masterfully blended spices such Raz el Hanout. Here is a interesting little tidbit info capsule that may also explain the popularity of tagines: fresh bread is sacred in this country and baked daily in wood burning ovens. Although the dough is prepared everyday at home, the raw loaves are brought to a communal oven where the master baker bakes all the loaves. These ovens are quite large and will retain residual heat for a long time even after the rush of bread baking has come and gone which is where the tagines end up later in the day to simmer slowly. Such stews, served piping hot over a bed of couscous, are always a crowd pleaser! My Moroccan Chicken Stew may not simmer slowly in a tagine nestled in a wood burning oven yet it still manages to evoke images of Marrakesh, white washed homes, blue mosaic tiles frescos and bustling spice markets.

I have adapted this recipe from Everyday Food by Martha Stewart which has now become a family classic because it is super healthy, packs a ton of flavour yet is so easy to make. There is no “heat” to this recipe either, for those who are sensitive to spicy foods.

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Moroccan Chicken Stew

serves 4 generous portions

What you need:

Don’t overlook making this dish because the ingredient list seems too long. Apart from the spices, there are very few ingredients needed and very little preparation required. You can replace Ras el Hanout with chili powder and garam masala (1 tsp each). Sumac and parsley add an extra dimension but can easily be omitted

  • 8 pieces of chicken, skinless, bone in
  • 2 cups of carrots peeled and cut into 1.5 inches long pieces then halved or quartered depending on the size of the carrots
  • 2-3 medium yellow onions, thin sliced
  • 1 small can stewed tomatoes, whole or diced (14oz or 400ml)
  • 1 small can chickpeas, rinsed or 2 cups cooked chickpeas (14oz or 400ml)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (500ml)
  • 1.5 cups dried fruits of your choice: figs, prunes, raisins, apricots**
  • 1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger or 1 tsp. dry
  • 2 heaping tsp. Ras el Hanout***
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. sumac (optional), adds a citrusy flavour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Plenty of pepper
  • 2 zucchinis cut the same way as the carrots
  • The juice of 1 lemon (preserved lemon pieces would be a great substitute)
  • A generous handful of fresh chopped parsley if you like but not necessary
  • Couscous

* I like to use a combination of thighs, drumsticks and halved breasts with the bone in because it yields maximum flavour. This dish can also be done with boneless chicken pieces of your choice which will slightly reduce the cooking time.

** I like to use figs and prunes which I cut in half.

*** Ras el Hanout has become much easier to find recently although if at all possible, I strongly recommend sourcing a good blend from a small spice store instead of a grocery store. Raz el Hanout’s personality varies from one master spice blender to another. It is the North African equivalent to India’s garam masala. It evokes sun drenched spice markets of the Mediterranean.

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How to make it:

  1. Now this is where it gets really easy: add everything to a large pot except the dried fruits, zucchinis, the lemon juice and the parsley.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes (15 minutes if using boneless meat).
  3. Add the zucchinis and fruit, simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package instructions. Couscous is normally ready in about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir lemon juice and fresh parsley in the stew
  6. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
  7. Ladle over couscous and serve.

Empty Nesters and Corn Chowder

The youngest Prince has left the nest… I thought I was ready yet tears flowed freely and frequently over the last few weeks. As long as the “child” (he is turning 21 in May) was under my roof, I could pretend he was still a child. As tall as he is, broad shoulder, bushy beard and all, it is not that picture I see when I look at him. I still see my little bright eyed baby; “mon petit rayon de soleil” as I have been calling him since forever. My little ray of sunshine… Once the most difficult and sloppiest eater ever, he is now my partner in crime when it is time to dig into sushi, pho, biryani and anything smothered in black bean sauce. He is my noodle maniac and chocolate thief; he has found every single secret hiding spot for my private chocolate stash and can deplete my jar of chocolate chips rather quickly which drives me insane because he never leaves enough for me to make a batch of cookies! He is my baby… Always will be! He is now ready to fly solo… I should be happy! I will no longer rip his head off for leaving his dirty dishes on the counter instead of dropping them in the dishwasher. I will not have to nag until the cows come home that he should eat some piece of fruit, any fruit as long as it is a fruit not a fruit flavoured gummy! I will no longer trip over his back pack he insists on leaving in the front entrance. There will be room for boots and shoes in the front hall too and empty drawers in the main bathroom.  Although it is time for him too to be who he needs to be, I can’t help my heart from being twisted all around.

My friends tease me a lot about my «sad mommy» reaction since he only moved next door. Literally! He moved in with his brother in the apartment right next to ours! Yes, drama queen mother here… Whatever hahaha! I still think that it doesn’t matter how far they move away: once they leave the parental home to fly on their own, it means my role as a mom is completely changing; it is taking a brand new direction and throwing me in a brand new category of parenting… Eeeeek, not sure if I am even ready for that stage in life since I am still trying to figure what I will do when I grow up!!!

Hard to believe he is almost 21
Hard to believe he is almost 21
Messy Eater
Messy Eater

And so the last few weeks have been a bit of a blur and flurry of activities getting our young man settled into his new space. It has also been a month of exploration of Ottawa’s foodie scene for the King and I: Ottawa sure has a lot to offer and although there are many exquisite restaurants. I really, really should take the time to talk about some of the amazing local restaurants we have had the pleasure of visiting recently. Crazy few weeks it has been! Between going out a lot on weekends, getting things sorted out at the house with our young lad and also going through competition for a new position at work, I have not taken the time to play much with new recipes. Instead, I opted to focus on some of the Prince’s favourite dishes. And even at that, I had to restrain myself from spoiling him with too much of “mom’s cooking” as he has diligently been following a weight loss program. For the most part, and when I was cooking,  I stuck to familiar foods like roasted chicken, homemade soups, favourite pastas and muffins. Although I am not afraid of trying  new and intricate recipes, my culinary strengths revolve around comforting «slow» foods such as braised meats and soups. I love those recipes that have survived the test of time, that have been lovingly passed on from one generation to another and that evoke, in one sniff or one mouthful, the joy and memories of sitting at a family table, surrounded by loved ones. This corn chowder fits the bill for comfort food; it has that «stick to your rib» quality that makes everyone reach for a second ladle full. And since I am a tad sad (to say the least) at closing this chapter of my adventures in motherhood, I feel the need to cook up some “wrap me in a blanket” kind of food. The stuff that sooths the soul and brings everyone back home in their heart!

Corn Choder

Corn Chowder

Although it is not easy to find fresh corn on the cob at this time of year in the North Hemisphere, I have seen some recently grace the produce aisles from those countries on the other side of the equator. If you can’t find any fresh corn, frozen is solid option: you may simply have to skip steeping the naked cobs in the milk as suggested in the recipe.

What you need:

  • 4 cobs of fresh corn
  • 3 medium to large potatoes peeled and diced to yield 4 cups
  • 5 slices of thick cut bacon, cut in small cubes. Double smoked bacon is even better
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 red pepper, chopped in small dice
  • 3 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper

How to make it:

  1. With a sharp knife, slice kernels. Set the kernels aside
  2. Placed naked cobs in a saucepan with milk and water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn heat off and let sit with cobs until ready to use.
  3. Chop the onions and bacon; dice the potatoes and red peppers, setting each aside separately
  4. Make a «beurre manié» by mixing butter and flour until well combined. Set aside
  5. In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon pieces until they start to brown slightly without becoming crisp. Add onions and cook to soften. Then add the corn, potatoes and thyme. Cook 5 minutes while stirring frequently.
  6. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Skim the foam that forms on top of the broth: this may have to be done a few times.
  7. Add red peppers
  8. Pour 1-2 cups of the hot broth over the beurre manié and whisk until smooth. Pour this mixture back to the pot whisking until well combined.
  9. Remove and discard cob ears from milk then add the liquid to the soup. Bring back to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer a bit more
  10. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: you can make this soup even if corn on the cob is not in season. You can use canned or frozen corn instead. Simply skip the step which infuses the naked cobs in milk and water.

Use fresh or frozen corn
Use fresh or frozen corn
Cobs taking a milk bath
Cobs taking a milk bath

Red potatoes

All that is left is to thicken it up and add the warm milk
Before the milk is added

 

Muffin Mania… Blueberry, Pear Almond Chocolate and more!

” You have actually posted your secret muffin flour on your blog? Wow, I’m surprised…”

Yeah, I know, me too…”

“So what made you change your mind?”

“I don’t know really. Well, maybe I do a bit. I don’t get to share my muffins anymore like I used to at the café. I miss that a bit. It was my little claim to fame, ya know? Nothing earth shattering or anything like that, but it was good for the soul when customers raved about them. I would never really cook much if I didn’t have people in my life to feed:  feeding people is sharing the love.”

“Yeah but I’m still surprised… Thought you would never part with these recipes, especially that muffin flour blend. I nearly had to open  a safety deposit box for your recipes. I was sure you would leave it as a legacy in your will for our children lol!”

“Nah, they will never be interested in my old muffin recipes hahaha. They are not spectacular enough for a Cordon Bleu graduate you know!”

“Maybe not… But those «old muffin recipes» make people happy!  Ok, they make ME happy!!!”

“You just say that cuz were married and you want to make sure I continue to feed you, sneaky man! LOL. Well at any rate, I figure I will never be rich and famous as a chef or cookbook author so I might as well just have some fun. And share the muffin love!”

“So is it fair to assume that you want your blog to make people happy?”

Yes! That’s it exactly! But ultimately, I am having fun writing and sharing. And that makes me happy :)”

“I should tell your readers how good these are…”

“You are so biased hahaha… And I think you just have!”

Well, simply put, I love baking muffins! I love that they are easy and quick to make, that you require very few tools to complete the task, that ingredients are usually readily available in most pantries and that there is little guilt in eating them! Muffins are a great way to use up fruit that may have started to wrinkle a bit. In our palace, it is often muffin mania!!!

SPECIAL BLEND FLOUR
5 cups all-purpose flour
5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat bran
1 cup ground flaxseed

Mix well together and keep in a well sealed jar, refrigerated is recommended for long-term storage.

This flour can be used in most muffin recipes. Why use this muffin flour? It yields tender centers and crispy tops. It is packed with nutrition, fiber, a bit of protein and a bit of good omegas. You can substitute any of the recipes below with all-purpose flour.

I am not experienced in gluten-free flour mixtures and cannot offer substitutes for a gluten-free mix

Blueberry Muffins 3

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

What you need:

2 cups Special Blend Flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk¹
2 eggs
The zest of one lemon
1/4 cup neutral tasting oil² or melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (not thawed)

¹ You can substitute regular milk, full or low fat. You can also use Kefir or plain yogurt mixed with milk to liquefy, maybe half yogurt and half milk. Please note: I have never tried nut milks, rice milk or soy milk.

² I prefer organic oils such as canola, avocado, sunflower or grapeseed oils over butter but anyone of those oils can be used.

How to make it:

  • Preheat oven to 400ºF, set rack to middle of oven. If your oven has a convection setting, I recommend it.
  • Prepare your muffin trays as you prefer: well-greased with a dusting of flour or lined with paper muffin cups. I love unbleached parchment paper cups: muffins do not stick at all on the paper and cleanup is a breeze. And these papers liners are 100% biodegradable.
  • In a large bowl, mix well: flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Make sure the brown sugar is fully incorporated and free of lumps
  • In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs then whisk in milk, oil, zest and vanilla
  • Measure the blueberries
  • Make a small well in the center of the flour mixture: pour in the liquid mix. Using a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, fold in the flour and the liquid until just well combined. Fold in blueberries. Do not over mix: it is ok to have a few small lumps in the batter.
  • Using a spoon or large ice cream scoop, divide the batter equally between the prepared muffin cups. There should be enough batter to fill each cup to the edge of the paper.
  • Bake for 18 to 22 minutes for standard size muffins and up to 28 minutes for jumbo muffins. When done, muffins should have nice golden tops; blueberries may have also started to burst open, letting a dribbling of juice seep through the cracks…
  • Remove from oven and try to wait until they are at least cool enough to handle before digging in!

Blueberry Muffins 2

Variations:

Using same the same recipe as above:

Pear Chocolate Almond

  • Replace blueberries with 1 1/2 cups diced fresh pear. Reserve a few pieces of pear to place on top of each muffin
  • Omit cardamom and lemon zest
  • Add 1/2 cup each chopped toasted almonds and chocolate chips to the flour mixture.
  • Add 1/2 to 1 tsp almond extract to the liquid mixture.
  • Place a few pieces of pears on top of each muffin and sprinkle a bit of almonds crumbs and chocolate chips (not necessary but a nice touch)

Raspberry Orange

  • Replace blueberries with equal amount of raspberries
  • Omit cardamom
  • Replace lemon zest with 2 tbsp. orange zest

Apple Cinnamon

  • Replace blueberries with 1 1/2 cups diced fresh apple. Reserve a few pieces of apples to place on top of each muffin
  • Omit cardamom, increase cinnamon to 1 tsp and add 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • Topping: mix 2 tbsp. of sugar (Demerara is great) to 1 tsp of cinnamon.
  • Place a few pieces of apples on top of each muffin and sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mixture before baking.

The Art of Uncomplicated – Banana Chocolate Chip Pecan Cake

It is often flaunted around that success in baking is achieved only by following an exact science. That it is the precise measurement of ingredients and the perfect execution of step by step instructions that will yield the anticipated results. Baking often involves many different steps and tends to mess up the kitchen and dirty a fair bit of dishes. And for the most part, this is absolutely correct! We are often intimidated into trying new recipes because we fear the results… BUT, not all baking projects are created equal. While it is fair to admit that pastry, elaborate cakes, and specialty French desserts can be quite intricate and are truly works of art, there are those scrumptious desserts that are silly easy to make and nearly fool proof. This is one of these cakes. It is so uncomplicated; it almost is a sin it turns out so delicious! It requires zero skills, zero electric appliance, very simple ingredients and will dirty very few dishes. Yet, it is always a hit: it gets gobbled up pretty quickly in my home although it does hold well by staying fresh for a few days. You may be tempted to swap the butter with oil, and it can be done. However, I strongly recommend sticking to butter: it will yield a tender & moist cake with a crunchy crust.

On the subject of uncomplicated cakes that deliver the WOW factor, you may want to explore an older post in which I share two super easy cake recipes: a Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache and a Chocolate Raspberry Torte. The only way I can even try to convince you that the chocolate cake with ganache is absolutely divine is by telling this little story: last Saturday, I attended a birthday celebration for my dear friend Susan. It was a grown women’s sleep over complete with a potluck of delicious appetizers, copiously drenched with good wine and even better conversation. We were a small group, a total of seven of us. This winter party/birthday celebration has been going on for several years now and we always look forward to this little time out from normal life. These ladies often request I make the Chocolate Raspberry Torte but this time, I was given carte blanche. I know these chicks: they are chocolate FANATICS. I wanted to bring something I had not made for them yet. I was hoping the cake would be enjoyed by all… Well, I shouldn’t have worried: to say it was a hit is an understatement!!! I have brought this cake to many events in the past but never, ever has it been polished off in one sitting. Never say never!!! By bedtime, there was one lonely, tiny piece left which the birthday girl swiftly stashed away to enjoy the next day. They ate nearly the entire cake! Need I say more? I think that counts for complete endorsement of the deliciousness of this cake. Now back to the subject of this blog post:
BANANA PECAN CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE

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This cake is super-fast to throw together. Pecans are optional! Because you pour it in one cake pan, it is even faster than making muffins. No power tools required!

Tools required: one 9X13 cake pan, 2 bowls, 1 whisk, 1 rubber spatula, 1 banana/potato smasher or a fork, measuring cups and spoons and of course, an oven!

What you need:

Dry

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Wet

2 eggs
1 cup melted butter
½ cup buttermilk
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (4 or 5 medium)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup toasted pecans coarsely chopped (optional)
How to make it:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease your cake pan with butter. If you have parchment paper, I recommend using some to line the pan. Makes it easier to lift the cake out
  2. In one of the bowls, combine together all dry ingredients using whisk and set aside
  3. In separate bowl, combine eggs, bananas, butter and buttermilk. Whisk until well blended
  4. Have your chocolate chips and pecans ready. If you skip the pecans, you can add ½ cup extra chocolate chips.
  5. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and mix well without beating. Once the dry ingredients are almost completely incorporated with the wet ones, add the chocolate chips and the pecans to the batter. Fold until all ingredients are just blended. Do not over mix or beat
  6. Pour batter into pan and bake for 40 minutes, until the top bounces back to the touch or when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean of batter (some chocolate may stick to the toothpick). I usually start checking a few minutes before the set time because each oven is different. If the top of the cake is still pale, I increase the time slightly before checking for doneness.

 

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Note: I use mostly organic ingredients, including flour. Neutral oil, such as avocado or sunflower, can be substituted for butter although it may alter the flavour profile as well as the overall texture.

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