Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme

Moving is a lengthy process. It does not just include packing the belongings that you own, but also the immaterial baggage you know you are leaving behind. This is not the first time I have changed cities, but I find that it does not get any easier the next time around, no matter how much you are looking forward to the new experiences to come. That being said, there is little not to enjoy about New York, especially at this time of year. People seem to still be in the Christmas spirit (and by that I just mean that the city is a little more calm).

I am starting my culinary adventure very soon (in a couple hours that is) and I am a bubbly mix of terribly excited and terribly scared. Yesterday, I attended my orientation where I was introduced to the curriculum at the school. "Not to worry, the local hospital is only a couple blocks away, and the doctors there are used to our students coming in, especially in the first weeks! They always seem to have very clean and clear cuts", I was told by one of the orientation speakers. I was waiting for the pause, and the grin. But there was none. This is no joke. The serious cooking has begun. I get my knife set tomorrow which is undoubtedly a sign that I have been initiated to the professional culinary world...

Before leaving I did get a chance to make a last dessert. While this it was no last supper, it did feel like it would be a while before I got to cook in my student kitchen again. We ended our meal with a sweet touch: dark chocolate pots de creme. It's really one of the easiest recipes I have ever made. You just have to prepare it a little bit in advance to make sure the concoction has the time to set. The chocolate was very rich, so serving it in small portions is a good idea.


Recipe (for 4) Adapted from the Plantation House Restaurant
4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cups of whipping cream
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract
2 tsp of Grand Marnier
A dash of salt

Heat the chocolate in a double boiler, whisking until melted. Stir in the sugar and heavy cream, whisking until smooth. Beat a small amount of chocolate mixture into a bowl with the beaten egg yolks. Gradually add the egg-chocolate mixture back into double boiler pan. Whisk and cook for about 3 minutes over medium heat. Stir in the vanilla, Grand Marnier and salt. Strain through small sieve to remove any possible cooked egg lumps. Pour into small ramekins. Chill until firm (at least 2 hours) and top with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pear and Chocolate Crumble

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I just spent a few days in France to visit my family and friends for some early holiday catch-up. Paris is an amazing city for all things culinary and I had a great time looking for new kitchen ramekins and some new cookbooks. I was happily surprised to get an early christmas present from my friend Olivia.. a cookbook filled with countless crumble combinations!

I hear that North Americans enjoy their crumbles with oats. I have had a few apple and peach crumbles topped with oats here and while I do enjoy them, they are quite different from the crumbles I enjoyed growing up. I have also been exploring some savory recipes for crumbles featuring cheese, spices and herbs... so I wil probably be sharing some of those with you in the weeks to come.

This crumble was really easy to put together. The bubbly chocolate, the sweet pears and the golden brown crumble topping were also quite enjoyable as a breakfast treat for early morning jetlag..

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Recipe adapted from Heloise Martel (for 4 individual ramekins)
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
A pinch of salt
3 Bartlett pears
100 g semi-sweet good quality chocolate
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
100 ml of whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 410 F. In a pan, bring the cream to a simmer and add the chocolate in small pieces. Take it off the heat and stir until the chocolate is melted and add the vanilla. Set aside.
In a bowl, crumble the butter, flour, brown sugar and salt. The mixture should form tiny pieces of dough. Cut the pears into bite-size pieces and place an equal amount into the buttered-ramekins. Divide the chocolate between the ramekins and pour over the pears. Add the crumble pieces to each. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown. Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lemongrass Pork Riblets

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My most recent cook-book purchase (on the advice of fellow food-blogger Holybasil) is Andrea Nguyen's superb 'Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.' It's one of those rare cookbooks that you can read almost like a novel. She details the ordeals of her family leaving Saigon in 1975 and establishing a new life on the West Coast, and she talks about how her mom persisted in preserving and recreating authentic meals despite the limited American grocery supply. I like this book so much because it really underscores the crucial role that food plays in the maintenance of cultural heritages, especially in expat communities.

My paternal family also fled from Saigon, probably a few short months after Andrea's, and I grew up in a thoroughly Canadian culture. I don't speak the language, and I've never been to Vietnam. Food, and the family rituals that surround it, remain as my strongest link to my cultural inheritance and I've learned to treasure that.

These little riblets are a real treat and they were really fun to make. The key ingredient is lemongrass, a long-stalk, husk-like vegetable that has all the aroma and freshness of lemon without the acidity. A medium-sized bunch set me back 99 cents at the local asian market. The other secret ingredient is a wonderful caramel sauce called Nuoc Mau, that Andrea Nguyen explains how to make both in her book and on her blog here. In a pinch though, honey will work just as well. The riblets are marinated for 24 hours and then roasted in the oven. They weren't quite as tender as I thought they'd be (I think I will try adapting this recipe by braising them beforehand) but they were packed with flavour. A warning though: they are really messy to eat!

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Recipe
1 rack of spareribs or babyback ribs, cut lengthwise into 2 inch pieces
1 cucumber, to serve

For the marinade
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of honey or Caramel Sauce
1 tablespoon of fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and minced

To prepare the ribs, carefully peel off the tough white membrane along the back of the ribs. This will take a bit of force, so be careful. Cut between the bones into individual riblets.

For the marinade, mix the garlic, shallot, lemongrass and oil and blend them in a mortar and pestle or small processor. Add to a large bowl. Add in the brown sugar, black pepper, soy sauce, caramel sauce and fish sauce and mix. Add the riblets and, using your hands, coat the meat in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

30-45 minutes before cooking, take the bowl out of the fridge to let the meat get to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and put a rack on the top shelf of the oven. Arrange the riblets on a foil-lined baking sheet with the meat side up. Reserve the marinade. Cook for about 7 minutes, remove from the oven and quickly brush with the marinade. Put them back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes depending on how big they are. Serve with sliced cucumber, some small chiles and some soy sauce for dipping. And, of course, a hefty supply of paper towels to clean up afterwards!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Walnut Torte with Rum Syrup

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" I am looking for Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey please. I can't find it anywhere in the cooking section."
"Sticky... what? Are you sure it's in the cooking section? What a strange title!" The bookstore clerk was frenetically browsing the computer repertoire to find the book. "Ah, here it is - Sticky, Messy, Chewy, Gooey, you were right." Then, a man who I had seen look back at us a few times asked: "What kind of book is that? That just sounds too intriguing not to open." I'd like to think that in a couple days he will be getting his hands on a copy of the book too.

One of the great things about starting a food blog is being able not only to post about the recipes you've enjoyed, but meet, in a somewhat virtual way, a community of people who share your love for good food. Over at Taste and Tell, Deborah had mentioned this dessert book, and after looking up reviews on the internet, I knew I had to get myself a copy. The book really is a find: the pictures are decadent, and there is more chocolate and caramel recipes than I could every dream of making. I thought I'd begin with this walnut torte though, to try something a little different. My mother used to have this great recipe for a walnut tart, and it was one of the staples of my childhood eats. Going back to France in a few days for an early holiday family reunion, I will have to dig up the recipe. But since I have never been known to be the patient type, I tried this one out.

It's very different from most recipes for I've made before mostly because of the rum syrup that is dowsed over the cake straight when it comes out of the oven. It gives the cake an amazing texture and fills the batter with rum and sweet goodness. This cake was really a treat to make. I did find it a little too sweet though, and will test the recipe using less sugar when I make this again.

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Recipe adapted from Jill O'Connor
(Will satisfy 10 hungry people)
3 cups of very finely chopped toasted walnuts (laid out evenly on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes)
1/2 of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch of salt
6 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 cups pf sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A pinch of cream of tartar
For the rum syrup:
1 3/4 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
2 or 3 tablespoons of dark rum

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix the walnuts, flour, baking powder and salt. Place the egg yolks in another bowl and the whites in a large stainless steel bowl mixing bowl. Whisk the egg yolks, gradually adding 1/2 cup of sugar, until the mixture is creamy (about 2 minutes). Whisk in the vanilla. Add the walnut mixture to the beaten egg yolks. The mixture will be very thick.
Using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until frothy. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to high and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar (1 tablespoon at a time). Beat until all the sugar is incorporated and the whites form stiff, glossy peaks.
Add a large dollop of the egg whites to the walnut mixture and fold in to loosen the batter. Carefully fold in the remaining egg white mixture.
Lightly grease a round springform with some butter. I used individually-sized springforms which cook for about 30 minutes, but if you are using a 10-inch round springform, bake for 45 minutes. Be careful to only fill the mold 3/4 of the way up as the torte will rise in the oven. The torte is ready when a skewer is inserted in its center and comes out clean.
Wile the torte is baking, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture has the consistency of maple syrup (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and add the rum. Let the syrup cool slightly.
Transfer the bakes torte to a wire rack and pierce with a wooden skewer to allow the syrup to penetrate the torte. Pour the syrup over the warm torte. Let it cool before you remove the springform. The cake might be a little difficult to move because of the syrup, so you might have to keep the base of the spingform under the cake. Enjoy with a glass of milk or scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cocoa Wafer Cookies with Mint Icing

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It's that time of the year again: the snow has just started falling, the city has become quiet and the trees bear a thick white blanket. All I need now is a cosy fireplace, a wool blanket and a mug of hot chocolate... I wouldn't say no to good food either though!

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have been in a bit of a cookie-obsessed mood lately. Maybe it's the holidays, or maybe just the need for someting sweet, but either way I have been looking for new recipes to try out. I made these wafer cookies yesterday and they were such a wonderful treat. I had fun decorating them and could only wish I owned more cookie cutters. The ones photographed here are cocoa wafer sandwiches which worked well because the wafer cookies are pretty thin and delicious with the sugary icing.

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Recipe:

Wafer Cookies:
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cupof icing sugar
6 tbsp of Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
A pinch of salt
A pinch of baking powder
Icing sugar, for garnish

Filling
1 egg white
1 cup of icing sugar, sifted
2 drops to 3 drops of peppermint extract for a mint taste

To Assemble
Beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Sift together the icing sugar and the cocoa powder over the butter and beat in. Stir in the vanilla, egg yolk and milk. Add the flour, salt and baking powder to the cocoa mixture and blend until incorporated. Shape the dough into a flat circle, wrap and chill for 20 minutes to harden it.
Preheat your oven to 325° F. On a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut it into 1 ½-inch circles (or any shape you like!) and transfer carefully to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the cookies can be lifted easily away from the parchment. Allow to cool on baking sheet.
For the filling, put the egg white in a bowl and beat in the icing sugar, a few tablespoonfuls at a time, until a soft dough forms. Decorate as you want!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Butter Chicken

For some reason, cooking Indian food has always proved an enigma to me. Even the cheapest, sketchiest takeout joints seem to serve up dishes that just sparkle with flavour and richness that I've found really tough to replicate in the kitchen. I used to secretly attribute the discrepancy to the fact that these cheap takeout joints have some magical access to ingredients I don't have. Or maybe they just use an obscene amount of oil, salt, and butter? Or maybe I'm just not cut out for cooking Indian food?

Happily, it was none of the above! I dug up this butter chicken recipe while browsing the internet and a couple parts of it appealed to me. The chicken is marinated for 24 hours in a salty yogurt marinade, and then roasted and finished off by simmering it in a buttery, fragrant tomato sauce. The spices weren't exactly just sitting in the pantry, but they weren't so exotic that I'd couldn't find them at the neighborhood grocery store.

I realize that 'Butter Chicken' maybe isn't the most authentic or challenging of Indian dishes, but I'm really glad this one came out well and I'm looking forward to trying out some more exotic dishes. My favourites including palak paneer, chana daal (chickpea curry), and, of course, naan, which will hopefully be on Chocolate Shavings in the near future!

A couple notes: For the marinade, make sure you avoid low-fat yogurt. For the coriander, cumin and fenugreek, try and use freshly ground spices. Grind them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Use good quality chicken, and don't be afraid to use all thighs, or all legs, depending on what you have on hand.


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Recipe

Adapted from Vijay Bist's Recipe in Secrets of Success Cookbook
by Michael Bauer

One chicken, cut up into 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, skin is optional
Juice of 2 lemons
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garam masala

Sauce
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon of curry powder
Pinch of garam masala
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
Fresh Coriander, for garnish

Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Place the pieces in a large, heavy duty ziploc bag and add the lemon juice and salt. It looks like a lot of salt, but most of it will be discarded with the marinade. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, making sure it's well covered by the marinade. While that's in the fridge, mix together the yogurt, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons of cream and the garam masala. Add the yogurt mix to the ziploc bag, agitate it a little to mix it in with the lemon juice. Refridgerate over night.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Take the chicken out of the marinade and discard the marinade. wipe off any excess marinade and place the pieces on a rack in the oven with an aluminum coated baking sheet underneat to catch the fat. Elevating the meat helps to cook the chicken uniquely by dry heat without having it simmer in its own fat. Cook for about 30 minutes until the chicken is almost entirely cooked through.

Mix together the ground ginger, brown sugar, curry powder, garam masala, nutmeg, and pepper. For the sauce, mix together heat up the butter in a large saucepan. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the spices, the tomato paste and the water. Turn the heat up to medium and simmer for 20 minutes before removing from the heat.

When the chicken has cooled off, cut it into bite size pieces and get rid of the bones. Keep the drumsticks if you want. Add the chicken, cream and fenugreek to the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with basmati rice or naan bread and garnish with minced coriander.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

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I just got back from New York a couple days ago and visited the cooking school I will be attending very soon. I cannot understate how amazing it was to visit a whole establishment entirely dedicated to the art of cooking. We are now far away from the days when cooking was considered a lesser art! The school has a library complete with DVDs of chef demonstrations and all the cook books one could ever hope for... as well as an auditorium where there are regular chef demonstrations. I was in absolute awe at the organization yet creativity emanating from these kitchens and cannot wait to begin the journey.

I have been meaning to post this recipe for a while now, but hadn't gotten around to it. It's a really great recipes for simple lemon cookies, with poppyseeds in the batter and sprinkled on top of each cookie. They are really easy to make but most importantly really tasty!

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Recipe (adapted from Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies)
1/4 cup of lemon juice
3 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest
1 cup of unsalted butter
2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds and more for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small pan, bring the lemon juice to a simmer. When it has reduced by half, add 1/2 cup of butter. Once the butter has melted remove from the heat and reserve.
In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of butter and 1 cup of sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy (it helps to melt the butter for a few seconds in the microwave before hand). Then, add the egg and reserved lemon-butter mixture and whisk for about 3 minutes until the mixture is pale. Mix in the vanilla, tablespoon of poppy seeds and 2 the teaspoons of lemon zest. With an electrical beater on low speed mix the lemon mixture to the flour mixture and blend until smooth.
In a plate, stir the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest.
Roll the dough into 1/4 inch balls and place on a parchment line cookie sheet making sure they are spaced out enough. Take a glass, dip it in some of the sugar/zest mixture and flatten out each ball to create an even circle of dough. Sprinkle some poppy seeds over the cookies and bake for 11 minutes or until the cookies are very slightly golden on the sides. Leave to cool before eating. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Potato Bread with Rosemary, Pancetta and Walnuts

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This month's Daring Bakers entry was a savoury, but challenging, treat: Potato Bread. Having never attempted bread before, I was a little apprehensive about taking on this challenge. There are so many things that can go wrong with bread-making! You're constantly asking yourself questions: Is the water too hot for the yeast? Too cold? Has the dough been kneaded too much? Too little? Is there too much flour? Nonetheless, the trick is to plow on and to trust your instincts and hope for the best! In this case, the recipe was quite easy to follow and it turned out really well.

We made a couple variations on the recipe: we made different little rolls each stuffed with a combination of walnuts and pancetta and rosemary. We cooked the pancetta first and then added it to the dough - it gave the bread a great salty taste. I also made some flavoured butter (rosemary, lemon and salt) which made it even easier to enjoy a bread-only dinner..!

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Ingredients:

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.

4 cups(950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Making the Dough (Directions will be for making by hand):

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. Tanna Note: I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.

Measure out 3 cups(750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Note about Adding Yeast: If using Active Dry Yeast or Fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using Instant Dry Yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.


Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Use the larger part of the dough to make 6-7 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

Baking the bread:
Preheat the oven to 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes and let all the rolls cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Butternut Squash, Chestnut and Pancetta Soup

I recently came across a Jamie Oliver recipe called 'Pumpkin Soup' and got excited: I'd never used pumpkins for anything but roasted seeds, pies, and jack-o-lanterns and was curious about what a soup would taste like. Of course, to my mild disappointment, the British pumpkin is, apparently, nothing else but what we call squash over here. Luckily though, it's exactly the right time for butternut squash and it's such an awesome fall vegetable that we thought we'd give it a try.

I think I like butternut squash so much, in part, because it's only really available for such a short time in the fall. We're so used to eating pineapples shipped halfway around the world in the middle of December that we forget the subtle pleasures of eating seasonally and I guess squash is an example of that. So here is this amazing soup (who would have thought it would take a brit to showcase such a thoroughly North-American vegetable?). The squash is roasted beforehand, not cooked in the broth as I've seen it done before, and I think that helps the soup keep a little texture. The roasted seeds on top are a nice touch too. The only question left to ask, I suppose, is what do the British call pumpkin?


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Recipe (adapted from Jamie Oliver)
1 butternut squash
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1.5 tbsp olive oil
5 slices pancetta, cut into ½ inch (1 centimetre) pieces
1 bunch fresh sage leaves
150g roasted chestnuts (about 1 1/3 cup)
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp sour cream or yogurt

Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds, reserving these for later. Using your pestle and mortar, bash up the coriander until fine and sprinkle over the squash. Drizzle with a little oil and roast in a hot oven for at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C / Gas 6 ) until nice and soft. This should take about 60 minutes, but test the squash with a fork: If some parts of the squash refuse to soften up, just leave them behind. Scoop out the pieces into a bowl.

Heat a little oil in a large pan and fry the pancetta with half the sage leaves. Add the chestnuts and the onion and fry gently for about 15 minutes. Add in the squash, cover with the stock and bring to the boil. Remove the mixture and blend until smooth, then pour back into the pan.

Take the rest of the sage leaves and the reserved squash seeds and fry them in a little oil until crisp. Keep a couple whole sage leaves and fry them until they're crisp to garnish. To serve, spoon a little sour cream on top of the soup, sprinkle with a little of the crisp sage and seeds, and finish with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Marmalade Advice



With the Christmas holidays right around the corner, I have been thinking about gift ideas for my close relatives. Bitter orange marmalade is one of my father's favorite foods. For him, the more bitter the better. I have never seen him enjoy any other type of jam, and he has become quite picky with his marmalade over the years. What better idea than making him something he truly loves to eat?

I must admit that I have never made jam before so I am really not sure how to go about this. I am excited about trying this out though! I am looking for any advice about cookbooks to teach me how to make jam, or for any orange marmalade recipes someone might have tried. Any ideas?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Amaretti Cookies

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Amaretti cookies.. need I say more? These little almond delights are one of my favorite cookies. I have bought many different kinds over the years, generally at Italian grocery stores, but had never tried making them at home.. until yesterday. I had always thought that they were too difficult to make at home, and so I was content to splurge on boxes of pricey amaretti that I would try to save for as long as possible.

After browsing around some of my regular food blogs, I found an amaretti recipe from Cream Puffs in Venice. The recipe was actually incredibly simple (five ingredients!), and they tasted better than the gourmet store-bought ones I am used to. The trick to the recipe, as Ivonne told us, is to grind your own almonds rather than using store-bought almond powder. As our antique food processor was definitely not up to the challenge, Oliver worked out an elaborate solution involving no less than 3 large ziploc bags, a hammer, a mug, and an empty bottle of wine.

We have also been experimenting with food styling these days and we had a good time finding new ways to display the amaretti. With the holiday cookie season coming up, I can be sure that the extra almonds sitting in my pantry will be put to good use!

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Recipe:
(Yield: 50-70 cookies)
1-1/2 pounds almonds, finely ground
2 cups granulated sugar (plus 1 cup extra sugar to roll the cookies in)
1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa
4 eggs
3 tablespoons of almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Position your oven racks so that one rack is at the bottom of the oven and the other rack is in the middle of the oven; line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds, sugar and cocoa. Add the eggs and almond extract and mix until well combined. Using a tablespoon or your hands, scoop out enough of the almond mixture to form a ball that is roughly 1-1/2 to 2 inches in size.

Roll each ball in the cup of granulated sugar and place on cookie sheet. Make sure that there is a visible layer of white sugar on each amaretti. Press down the center of each cookie with your thumb to create an indentation in the center (this helps with sugar crackle on top of the almond base).

Bake cookies on lower rack for 10 minutes and then move to middle rack for an additional five minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container. Cookies will keep for up 10 days.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Green Tea and Ginger Biscotti

One of my great weaknesses is coffee and everything that goes with it. It's not so much the caffeine that I'm addicted to, but rather the taste and the wonderful, comforting routine of brewing a warm cup of coffee and drinking a warm cup of coffee, no matter what the season. I also love how coffee goes so well with certain sweets such as dark chocolate, shortbread cookies, or, my personal favorite, biscotti. The only thing is, they're so expensive at the store and at coffee shops! They're nothing less complicated than cookies baked twice, and they're supposed to come out a little hard so they soften up when you dip them. We tried this funky green tea biscotti recipe and added some chunks of candied ginger for a little bite.

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Recipe (adapted from Leite's Culinaria)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons of matcha (green-tea powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
(1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup of slivered, blanched almonds
1/2 cup finely diced candied ginger

To decorate the biscotti:

1/2 cup of melted dark chocolate

1/2 cup of butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). In one bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, matcha, and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture to the bowl. Eventually, the dough will get too thick for a hand mixer and so switch to working the remaining flour in with your hands. It should make a nice, firm, dough. Stir in almonds and chopped ginger.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently 5 or 6 times. Divide into two equal portions. With floured hands, roll each portion into a log approximately 7 inches long, flattening the top slightly. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and firm to the touch, 25 minutes. Remove the logs from oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Reduce the oven temperature to 275°F (135°C). Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and slice them on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Lay the cookies cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake again until the biscotti are lightly toasted, about 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn the cookies over and bake until slightly dry, about 15 to 20 more minutes. Cool the biscotti on wire rack.

Melt the chocolate and the butter and place the mixture in a glass. Dip each biscotti in the chocolate, shaking off the excess. Place on a cooling rack and spinkle with ginger pieces while the chocolate is still warm so the ginger sticks to the biscotti. Leave to set and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spiced Rice with Raisins, Coriander and Almonds

I have been flipping through a new cooking book we borrowed from Oliver's mother called World Vegetarian Classics. The book gives great insight on vegetarian cuisine around the world, and shows how each and every culture has embraced vegetarian cooking and made it an essential part of its culinary traditions. I am enjoying reading about the different recipes in the book (which are divided by geographic locations) and have a list of recipes I am dying to try. Tonight, Pacha Rice was on the menu.

I remember how puzzled I first was when I moved to Canada and met vegetarians. For some reason, I had never been exposed to this lifestyle in France and had quite a few questions about it. French cooking is so much based around meat and fish, that I couldn't imagine a meal without them on the table. I am now quite aware that there are as many ways to be vegetarian as there are ways to cook pasta, and as many vegetarian meals as there are meat-based ones. I have made a point of knowing how to cook great vegetarian food and not to reduce non-meaty cuisine to steamed vegetables and salad. Even if you're not a vegetarian, it is a worthwhile challenge to limit yourself in the kitchen. When you have too many options open to you, it's sometimes hard to know what to make and what to choose. Cooking vegetarian food has obliged me to really look for flavor and to make all the ingredients complement one another.

This rice dish, I suspect, will be a keeper. Made primarily in Egypt, Pacha rice consists of an interesting combination of crispy noodles and spiced tender rice, with almonds, herbs and spices.

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Recipe

For 4 people

1 1/2 tablespoon of butter

1 shallot, diced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme

2 tablespoons of fresh coriander, chopped plus a few to garnish

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, crushed

1/2 cup of golden raisins

1 1/4 cups of basmati rice

2 cups of water

One handful of vermicelli, broken into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup of blanched almonds, chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the shallots and garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the spices, herbs and season with salt and pepper for another 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the raisin and the rice, and stir again until the rice is golden. Pour in the water, bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat so that the rice simmers gently and leave to cook for about 15 minutes. (The amount of water and the cooking time will depend on the type of rice you use).

In the meantime, heat a knob of butter in a pan, and add the almonds. Once gently golden, add the small pieces of vermicelli directly to the pan (not cooking the vermicelli helps make them really crunchy). Remove after a couple minutes when the noodles are golden.

Stir the almonds and vermicelli mixture into the rice, and sprinkle with coriander leaves. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ricotta, Spinach and Pea Ravioli

I used to wash dishes at a posh 'pre-theatre' restaurant in Niagara on The Lake, Ontario. One of the perks of scrubbing out food-encrusted pans for 6 bucks an hour was that, when it came time for dinner break, they fed you like royalty. Mussels, salmon, shrimp, steak, nothing was off-limits with one key exception: the homemade ravioli. They used to make these huge ricotta-stuffed ravioli and serve two or three of them for an exorbitant price and apparently, out of everything else, they were too precious to waste on the lowly dishwashing peons.

So when Jenn told me she wanted to make her own ravioli... on a weekday at that.. I was pretty skeptical. Making pasta at home is one of those things, along with making ice cream and brewing your own beer, that's always seemed to take a ridiculous amount of time and energy. As we are short on time, we skipped the pasta making altogether and used wonton wrappers! It's a surprisingly workable substitute, as the little wrappers come in frozen packages and are ready to use right out of the box, but you can still make your own filling. It takes a bit of time to get used to the process and make sure not to overfill each ravioli but as a whole it works quite well. We were thinking about making a cheese sauce to coat the ravioli with but finally opted for a pea and butter combination instead because the ricotta filling was already so rich and creamy.

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Recipe:



1 300g package of ricotta
3 handfuls of baby spinach
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
1/2 cup of frozen peas
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon of butter
2 tablespoons of chopped italian flat leaf parsley
20-30 wonton wrappers
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a little of olive oil in a pan and add the crushed garlic. Add the spinach to the pan and cook until wilted. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, lemon juice and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Add spinach to the ricotta mix to complete the filling.


Lay out the wonton wrappers on a flat surface one or two at a time and brush the sides with a small amount of egg (don't over do it or the wrappers will become soggy). Add about 1-2 teaspoons of filling inside each wrapper. Take the four corners and bunch them into little parcels, making sure that the filling doesn't spill out. Alternately, you can fold them into single triangles. Add to boiling water for 30 seconds (they will float to the top when ready).


For the sauce, melt the better in a non stick pan and thaw out the peas. Add the chopped parsley and pour over the ravioli.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sweet Shallot and Tomato Tart

I am moving to New York City in less than two months to start a culinary program at the French Culinary Institute. Moving to a new country definitely has its share of anxiety, but the prospect of being able to cook for over 5 hours a day and learn about the real tricks behind a good bĂ©arnaise or hollandaise sauce keeps me going. Although I don’t necessarily want to become a chef, the possibility of being able to work in an area that has to do with food, writing about food, photographing or styling food really appeals to me.


I am planning on posting about my culinary discoveries while in New York, and keep cooking (and practicing what I will have learned!) when I come back for week ends in Montreal. Until then, my scaled-down student kitchen will have to do!


I have been in a tart/pie mood lately. Maybe it’s the cold, or maybe just the endless possibilities of a round piece of dough... so I have been skimming my growing collection of cookbooks for ideas. The tart I made yesterday uses puff pastry, which has a buttery delicate taste and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. Spread on top of the dough is a sweet shallot and balsamic compote, topped with goat cheese, emmental, tomato and basil.


 


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Recipe (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

2 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil
8 thinly sliced shallots
4 large garlic cloves, cut intothin slivers
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons of white wine
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry sheets, thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Use cold.
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 grated emmental
1/2 cup of crumbled creamy goat cheese
4 roma tomato, sliced
3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the shallots and garlic. Sauté for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallot are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine, balsamic vinegar and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.

Unfold each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an to make individual-sized tarts.

Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, score a circle 1/2 inch inside the edge of each pastry. Prick the pastries all over with the tines of a fork and place them on the sheet pan. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan (staying inside the scored border)

Divide the shallot mixture between each tart, again staying within the scored edges. Crumble some of the goat cheese and emmental on top of the shallots. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Sprinkle with salt, and pepper. Brush the sides of each tart with the beaten egg mixture.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

 

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bostini Cream Pie

orange_sil.jpgI'm proud to announce that chocolateshavings has joined the ranks of a highly talented and secretive organization that goes by the name of 'The Daring Bakers.' The Daring Bakers are an online community of people who love to bake. Once a month, a challenge is issued by the host for that month and everybody bakes, and then posts their  finished product. It's a fun way to motivate us to bake more and try differentrecipes as well as interact with fellow bloggers.


The first challenge was a challenging one indeed: a modern twist on the classic Boston Cream Pie. It's essentially an orange chiffon cake plated with a delicate custard and doused in a decadent chocolate glaze. We used our candied orange recipe for a neat little garnish on top of each cake. Overall, it turned out pretty well. I feel like the cakes could have risen a little more, but for a first try it was still a success.

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    Recipe from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala’s Bistro, makes about 24 individual servings)

    Custard (Pastry Cream):
    3/4 cup whole milk
    2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
    1 whole egg, beaten
    9 egg yolks, beaten
    3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
    1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
    1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugarChiffon Cake:
    1 1/2 cups cake flour
    3/4 cup superfine sugar
    1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
    1/3 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup canola oil
    1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
    3/4 cup fresh orange juice
    1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
    1 teaspoon cream of tartarChocolate Glaze:
    8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
    8 ounces unsalted butterTo prepare the custard:
    Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.To prepare the chiffon cakes:
    Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

    Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

    Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

    To prepare the glaze:
    Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

    To assemble:
    Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Four Ways with Chocolate Truffles

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Chocolate truffles are possibly one of the most sinnful and indulgent ways to enjoy chocolate. These little balls of heaven, as I like to call them, melt as soon as you bite into them, releasing the rich taste of pure chocolate nuanced with Grand Marnier, coffee and vanilla. I used to make them as a child for Christmas celebrations and simply dip the truffles in cocoa as way to balance the sweet chocolate taste. This time around, I decided to explore and make them with different toppings: shredded coconut, ground almonds, crumbled pistachios and cocoa.


We made these for a Halloween party we are attending tonight, so if anyone asks, they're 'Zombie Droppings'. Although, it does sell them a little short. I am already thinking of new ways to make these for next time, possibly with chocolate-covered espresso beans in the center...


 


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Recipe (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate
1 cup of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
1 tablespoon of strong coffee at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract
Shredded coconut
Cocoa powder
Crumbled pistachios
Ground almonds


Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, coffee, and vanilla. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until the chocolate mixture completely hardens (I left it in the fridge overnight).

With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for a couple hours, or until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll individually in your chosen toppings. I ended making the truffles quite small because they can be a little to rich when they are large. I These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.


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