Sunday, December 6, 2009

Easiest peanut butter cookies ever; replacing eggs

It's exam period again, and you know what that means: more procrastination baking!

In this round I just wanted something quick and snack-y. Cookies were the obvious choice. A quick survey of my pantry showed slim pickings: I was completely out of eggs and butter, and running low on flour. The best I could find was about 1/3 cup peanut butter, brown sugar, and flax seeds. Immediately I recalled a recipe I'd seen on the back of a peanut butter jar at work: "1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg. Mix and bake."

ground flax seed peanut butter cookies*

To replace the egg, I ground up some flax seeds using Zoe's pestle and mortar (thanks, gurl). In general, one whole egg can be replaced by 1 tbsp flax seeds + 3 tbsp water. Mix the ground seeds and water in a small bowl, then let them sit for a few minutes. The mixture should become slightly gelatinous, kind of like an egg white. Then you can add it to the cookie batter as you would a normal egg. It worked perfectly... so perfectly that I ground up plenty of extra seeds to use in the future (I store the ground flax seed in my fridge). So I might not ever buy eggs again (flax seeds are significantly cheaper).

The best thing about replacing eggs with ground flax seeds is that you can easily reduce recipes to half-size or one-third-size without worrying about that awkward half- or one-third-egg.

Recipe: five peanut butter cookies
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar (brown sugar works fine)
1/3 tablespoon (= 1 teaspoon) ground flax seed
1 tablespoon water
a few drops of vanilla (optional)
  • Mix the ground flax seed and water in a small bowl as described above.
  • Combine the peanut butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Once the flax seed mixture has reached the proper consistency, mix it in, too.
  • Spoon the dough (in balls) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Flatten the dough balls using a fork. You should press the dough twice with the fork, making a criss-cross pattern (see photo).
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for about ten minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown on the bottoms. Wait until the cookies are cool before eating or removing from the pan. Otherwise they will be too soft!

The recipe made five cookies. Total preparation and cooking time was only 20 minutes!

*These have a darker color due to the brown sugar.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Light wheat bread

I've been making black bread for the past four weeks. It's excellent, let me tell you, but it turns out that not everyone can fully appreciate its wonderful, strong flavor and dense texture. So this week, I sought a more widely accepted bread, and found it: light wheat bread. It is pretty close to the standard brown bread you'd find in a grocery store, except, you know, better.

the loaf viande fumée

The recipe I found comes from the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I made a few modifications, mostly stemming from my lack of bread flour and instant yeast. It turned out splendidly--the crust is dry and flaky, almost the texture of a baguette. The bread itself slices perfectly and makes an excellent base for a smoked meat sandwich (!).
Recipe: light wheat bread
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour (or bread flour if you have it)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons powdered milk
1.5 tsp salt
2 tbsp (28g) butter at room temperature
1.5 tsp honey (or sugar)
1 cup water
  • As usual, mix the yeast, warm water and 1 tsp sugar in a bowl and let stand until light and frothy.
  • Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Add the butter, honey, yeast mixture and water, then mix everything together to form a cohesive mass. If flour remains at the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle additional water and mix until everything comes together. The dough should be reasonably soft and pliable, but not too sticky.
  • Knead the dough for about 10-20 minutes, then place in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and allow the dough to double in size (this should take about an hour).
  • Deflate the dough, form into a loaf, and then place in a greased loaf pan. Cover and allow the dough to rise a second time to twice its size.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and bake the loaf until its crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Remove loaf from pan and allow to cool for at least one hour.
Note: During the first 15 minutes of baking, I kept a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven and occasionally flicked water droplets onto the coils to create steam. This prevents the crust from forming too early, as it often does in my oven.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Re: bean stir-fry

Dear Zo,

I am writing to update you on a successful adaptation of your recipe, the bean-noodle stir-fry. A few weeks ago, or whichever week you posted that, I actually attempted three different variations.

attempt 2: snow peas attempt 3: illumination

Attempt 1: No noodles.
Sauce: kidney beans, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey and that spicy Asian hot sauce. I added onions, snow peas, bean sprouts and tofu, and served it over rice.

Attempt 2: Additions of rice noodles and chicken broth.
I realized noodles were necessary. This attempt was good. Really good. But there wasn't enough sauce! I needed more.

Attempt 3: More sauce.
By this time I was out of snow peas, but I still had the other ingredients and an appetite (NOTE: not the same day). The method I ended up with was this:
  • Boil rice noodles in chicken broth. Drain the noodles and reserve the broth!
  • Fry onions in a saucepan until translucent. Add the garlic and fry briefly.
  • Normally I would add the other veggies and stir-fry them at this step, but since bean sprouts take no time at all, and since my other ingredients (tofu and noodles) were already cooked, I went directly into making the sauce:
  • To the onions and garlic, add the beans, then some of the chicken broth (I added about 1/3 cup for one serving). Add soy sauce, honey, and rice vinegar in appropriate portions. Allow the mixture to simmer down so that the flavors are adequately combined (hint: taste). If it's too sticky, add more broth. If the sauce is too liquid-y, add a little bit of corn starch/flour to thicken it. You should have plenty of sauce here.
  • At this point I added the bean sprouts, tofu and noodles, then cooked them in the sauce just long enough for them to absorb some flavor. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Oh, in the second and third attempts I used black-eyed peas instead of normal beans (which I was out of). In the second attempt I didn't notice it very much, but in the third it definitely was weird. I don't recommend black-eyed peas, in case you are thinking to try it. I'm going to try with black beans as soon as I get a hold of some... I'll keep you updated.

Your friend,


I eat a lot of granola. I can eat it for breakfast, as a snack, as dessert, whatever. And it only occurred to me this year that I could make my own.


Honestly though, I CANNOT believe it has taken me so long to share this with you. This post has been sitting around in my drafts for two months. I've actually just been waiting for an opportunity to take a more appetizing photo than the one above, but it didn't happen. You'll just have to trust me on how delicious this is, since the photo is misleading.

The recipe I use has been adapted from several sources, and it's pretty flexible so you are free to add or subtract whatever you'd like from it. The key ingredient is the honey because it makes the granola stick together and creates clumps. Apparently you could also use brown rice syrup.

Recipe: Granola
3 cups oats
1 cup slivered almonds
.5 cup chopped walnuts
.5 cup shredded coconut
2 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/3 cup maple syrup or brown sugar
1/3 cup honey or brown rice syrup
1/3 cup applesauce
2 cups dried fruit (I used raisins, dates and figs)
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together except the fruit. Add the wet ingredients and stir until everything is nicely coated. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. Check on it every 10-15 minutes and give it a good mix so you don't burn any bits.
  • When the granola looks nice and golden brown on top, remove it from the oven and let it cool. Then mix in the fruit.
  • Serve with yogurt, chopped bananas, blueberries, etc.

Other possible additions include: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, pecans, banana chips, etc. Do not add chocolate chips. That's gross.

Mon petit chou

So when my dad was a kid he had this neighbour and at some point during his adolescence or early adulthood, she gave him her (very old) copy of Mrs. Beeton's. When he came to Canada he brought it with him, and it's followed him through the years. As a kid, I was always fascinated by this book. It was so old, the binding crumbling, the pages yellow. I didn't really know what it was or what mysteries it contained, but I held it in great esteem, as it was always brought out to settle disputes over the correct recipe for Yorkshire puddings, or exactly how to roast a pheasant. (These were common disputes in our house throughout my childhood.) It was the bible of traditional English cooking and Mrs. Beeton's was always the final word. I believe it was even kept on the shelf next to that second most prized book, the Scrabble dictionary. I don't think I've ever actually turned the pages of my dad's copy, although I did use to surreptitiously stroke its spine when no-one was looking. This summer I came into possession of my own, used, copy and while it's not hard-bound and doesn't have quite the same history as my dad's (which I have dibs on, if you're reading this Edward), it does contain the same timeless wisdom about exactly which silks match which complexions, and how to go about getting character references on your servants. And the recipes of course.

Predictably, as it weighs about 6 kilos and I was already over my baggage allowance, I had to leave it in Guelph when I came here (I'm definitely leaving enough room to pick it up at Christmastime though!). But fear not! For it is available in its entirety (maybe minus the plates and engravings) online.

Now what does all this family folklore have to do with today's post? Well I'll tell you. Quite a few weeks ago now, I bought a huge bag of potatoes for only 86p (CAD1.70 ish). I was down to the last three potatoes and they were getting kind of spongey and I was getting low on money (story of my life). So I thought to myself, what do people with no money do with three potatoes to make them stretch? And I answered myself, make potato soup! And I thought, but in order to make potato soup edible, you need to have fancy things like leeks and cream, which I don't have and can't afford. :( . So then I thought, what else do people with no money eat a lot? (I should probably tell you that my idea of what people with no money eat is largely informed by Oliver! and the little I've gleaned about rural 18th century peasants. And the Depression. Which should explain my lack of imagination, because they all seem to be eating gruel and potato water most of the time.) And I answered myself again, cabbage! So there it was: three manky potatoes and a cabbage. Luckily, I had some stock cubes and some garlic, and I went out and bought an onion specially. So, together with my trusty box of spices (which is falling apart and is now more tape than cereal box), I set to making cabbage soup.

Looking back, I guess that last paragraph didn't really make the link between Mrs. Beeton and cabbage soup explicit. Well, my first step was to look at some of Mrs. Beeton's recipes to see what people with no money ate 150 years ago, because Mrs. B is all about frugality. So I looked at the table of contents on that online version and clicked on the first "Recipes" link I saw, which happened to be soup recipes. I read all of them and mixed some of them together in my head and was repulsed by a couple of them and ended up with this Mrs. Beeton-inspired recipe, which I will relate to you below.

Cabbage Soup
Some butter or oil
1-4 potatoes (I used one medium sized and 2 small. Also mine were the kind with white skin and I have never seen the kind with dirty brown skin here... which kind of weirds me out because I thought British people were all about potatoes), peeled (optionally) and cubed
1/2-1 onion, chopped
3-4 (+) cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp (+) fennel or caraway seeds (caraway would probably be better, but I only had fennel)
1 litre (4 cups? a quart? both?) of stock (chicken, vegetable, whatever. I did 2 cubes' worth of chicken, plus some extra water)
1/2 a small cabbage (I used the curly green kind, which I think would be best, but you could also use the smooth green kind. I don't know how well the purple kind would work as they tend to be tougher), prepared as below
A splash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

For the cabbage. Take the whole thing and peel off the outer most layer (or 2 layers, or enough layers so that what you've got wasn't in contact with the outside world) of leaves, and lay these aside. Using your biggest, scariest knife (and maybe with a friend to spot you the first couple of times), chop the cabbage in half, then put the flat side of one half down on the cutting board and cut that in half, so you've got one half a cabbage and two quarters. Put the half cabbage away to use for something else. Now take a smaller knife and cut out the tough core. What you've got should look something like this:

(Doesn't it look so pretty and curly?)
 Using the bigger knife again, chop vertical slices (so your knife is about parallel to where the core used to be) so that where you're cutting on the outermost leaves is about 2 cm across. Now chop again, perpendicular to your last cuts, so that you've got rectangles of cabbage. The exact size and shape isn't really important, but they need to be able to fit in your mouth and cook relatively quickly. When you've done that for both quarters, take the leaves you laid aside at the beginning. Wash them and stack them so that all the stems line up. Cut the stems out and cut the leaves into pieces about the same size as the others. (This is really difficult to describe, but pretty easy to do.)
  • Toast the fennel/caraway seeds in a dry pan until they start to smell really nice. The instant they start going brown, or even a little before (at the height of their smell), pour them into a little bowl or something and save them for later.
  • Heat the butter or oil (or both) in the bottom of an appropriately-sized (easier said than done!) pot, enough to cover the bottom.
  • Fry the onions on med-low heat, until they are all soft and delicious and maybe starting to get a little bit brown around the edges.
  • Add the garlic and the seeds and stir them up a bit. You might need to add a little more oil or butter if things are starting to stick. 
  • When the garlic is soft, add the stock cubes if using (but not the water). If you're using real stock (fancy!) then just you wait. Mash up the stock cubes into a paste and mix it all together with the onions, garlic and seed.
  • Add the water, or the real stock, and the potatoes.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for a while until the potatoes are cooked (the time for this will depend on how big your potato cubes are).
  • Add all the cabbage at once, stir it up and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Put a lid on the pot and remove from heat, so that the cabbage can steam without going all slimy like it does when you boil it.
  • After a couple of minutes, check back and give it another stir. I like the cabbage al dente, but if you want it softer, you can heat it up again until it's your desired tenderness.
  • Season with salt and pepper, and a splash of lemon juice. Serve with croutons, cheesy croutons, or the gratings from that cheese that's been in your fridge for a while that needs to be eaten up but is only really edible at this point if melted.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bean there, stir-fried that.

On my way home from class today it started pouring, so I darted in to a Tescos to wait out the worst of it. This was a very bad idea because I was absolutely starving (the sandwich I had packed was moldy, which I failed to notice due to the lack of light bulb in our kitchen :(    ) and my bank balance is rapidly dwindling to nothingness. Of course, once I got in there, I bought a whole bunch of food I didn't really need, but I came home slightly drier than I otherwise would have and with an idea for a recipe in my head.

Now I can't really cook Chinese food. Like at all. I have no idea what kind of flavourings (if that's even a word?) go into my beloved Beijing fried rice, or those lovely beef and broccoli stir-frys, and mostly my stir-fry sauce is just soy sauce. BUT. I have been unable to find satisfactory soy sauce in grocery stores here (and haven't yet been to Chinatown) so I knew I couldn't go that way this time. However, I had a plan. You know those delicious, delicious green beans that Elizabeth told you all about back in May. Well I had honey and sub-par soy sauce in the cupboard, so I decided to attempt a sauce with those ingredients. Well the results weren't as amazing as I had hoped, but it was pretty darn good, and it could be a lot better, with a few changes. So here's what I did, and what I would do differently.
Bean-Noodle Stir-Fry


Vegetable oil (to cover bottom of pan)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 can beans (I used kidney, but would have preferred black. Alas, my local Tescos doesn't stock black beans). Usually I drain and rinse beans from the liquid they come in but today I didn't. I found the sauce a bit too thick and starchy, so it probably would have been better if the beans had been drained and rinsed and drained again. Next time!
1-2 nests of Chinese noodles, cooked and drained
A few (2-3?) tablespoons of soy sauce (I used shitty Tescos stuff, and I really think that better soy sauce would have made this dish A LOT better)
Maybe half a tablespoon of honey
2-3 tablespoons of boiling water
Crushed chili peppers (or Asian chili sauce)
Dried ginger (fresh would be better, about a centimeter cubed)
Lemon juice

Now I didn't use any other vegetables, but that was pretty much because I couldn't afford them. Mushrooms would work really well in this, as would broccoli. You could try cauliflower (one of my faves!), carrots, green beans, or whatever else you feel like. "Whatever you feel like" seems to be becoming quite the theme in my recipes, but I think that just makes them more exciting.

I felt like something was missing in the sauce but couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was probably fish sauce, which I don't usually keep around the house, but do on occasion miss. Or maybe some of that delicious rice wine vinegar!!!! I love that stuff and could drink it straight. In fact, that's how I know I've got a good soy sauce, because I will drink it straight. Mmmmm. If you can think of something else that would improve the sauce, please tell me in the comments below!

  • Fry the garlic in the oil in a large frying pan or wok until it looks soft but is not yet brown.  
  • Add the beans (and other vegetables, according to their cooking times) and stir while frying (careful, it will probably spit and some of the beans might pop). If you're using the bean liquid, boil off most of it until what you've got left is almost sauce consistency. If not, then once they look like they might start to pop, proceed to step 4.
  •  While this is happening (or maybe while the noodles are cooking), make the sauce thusly: put the honey, soy sauce and hot/boiling water in a mug or small bowl and stir to dissolve the honey. Add some lemon juice if you like, or wait till later and add it directly to the stir-fry.
  •  Add the noodles and the sauce to the beans. Add lemon juice (if you haven't already done so), hot pepper flakes (or chili sauce), ginger and anything else you feel like adding.  
  •  Stir and mix it all up, boiling off the sauce/glaze until it is sauce/glaze consistency. And delicious. Don't forget the delicious. Taste and adjust everything as you see fit. Or don't and leave it up to chance!

So there you go. Mine made two meals and was better the second time, when I was able to adjust things more. I don't usually go in for the noodles, especially when rice is on offer (I love rice with an intense passion), but I was pretty glad I did this time. Please experiment with this and let me know what you would do differently!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bread, in general

Wow, so I love bread. I'm talking about homemade bread, made with whatever you want and then eaten with jam or cream cheese with cucumbers or peanut butter. Strangely, I don't even like regular bread. I never buy it from the store, and until it occurred to me that I could make my own I never ate it. Loaves of bread accidentally purchased by visitors would grow moldy in my cupboard, despite my best efforts to eat them.

But this is different.

pumpernlicious with cucumbers

Everyone already knows of my love for quick breads (see banana bread, soda bread). This week I have moved on to yeast breads. First endeavor: black bread, which is basically a stronger version of pumpernickel. This bread is rather dense but still gives a nice crumb. I followed this recipe almost exactly, and was shocked by my success.

Update: I've made this bread about five times since, and I've adapted the original recipe enough to justify typing it up here. I use it so often that I keep the (modified) measurements posted on my fridge:
Recipe: black bread
(makes one loaf)
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
0.25 cup warm water
1 cup water
1/8 cup molasses
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp (28g) butter
0.5 oz (14g) unsweetened chocolate
0.5 tbsp instant coffee powder
0.5 cup all-purpose flour
1.25 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup rye flour
0.5 cup bran
1 tbsp caraway seeds
0.25 tsp fennel seeds
0.5 tbsp salt
0.5 to 1 tbsp minced shallot
  • Stir the yeast, sugar and warm water together in a small bowl, and do not disturb until the mixture has about doubled in size and looks frothy.
  • Sift together the all-purpose, rye and whole wheat flours.
  • Melt the butter and chocolate, then mix with water, vinegar, molasses and coffee powder. Allow the liquid to cool off before proceeding to the next step.
  • Add one cup of the flour mixture, along with the bran, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, and shallots, to a large bowl. Add the liquid from the previous step, and the yeast. Mix.
  • Continue by adding flour to the large bowl, one half cup at a time. Keep going until a cohesive mass is achieved, i.e. the dough begins to clear the sides of the bowl as you stir it. The dough should be pretty sticky, but firm.
  • Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is springy/dense/until your hands are tired.
  • Place the dough (should be in the shape of a ball) in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for about an hour until it has doubled in size.
  • Gently deflate the dough, then form it into a loaf. Position your loaf in a greased loaf pan, then cover and allow it to rise (again) to twice its size. At this point you can preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bake the loaf in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes. It should have a deep brown crust. Be sure to check on it half-way and three-quarters through the baking time, just in case it's an early riser (HA).
I really encourage you all to try making your own bread--read these bread-making tips for solid advice. The one I found most helpful was placing a shallow dish of water on the bottom rack of the oven for the first 15 minutes of baking. Often I have problems with the crust hardening too soon (before the loaf fully expands), but the water adds extra moisture in the oven to prevent this.

I will continue to document my bread exploits here--in particular I'm hoping to develop some original recipes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bean cookies

I'll admit that when I first came across this recipe I was skeptical. Beans? In cookies? But here is the idea, and it's brilliant: instead of using one cup of butter per 24 cookies, we will use one can of beans as the source of fat. You have to admit it's intriguing.

bean cookies

Conveniently, my discovery of this recipe came just as I was re-evaluating how much oil and butter go into my food, and whether they are completely necessary. I have modified this recipe from the original, which came from CBC via this blog. In the past few weeks I've tried several different versions: one with orange zest and raisins, one with walnuts and chocolate chips, and Heidi's version with anise seeds. In the end I settled on an adaptation of my favorite-ever cookies, which were taken from a 1949 Brownsburg, Québec church cookbook I found in a used furniture store. They are called "dad's cookies." I'm not sure whose dad this refers to, but he had excellent taste. Additionally I've added in dates and walnuts. Feel free to modify the recipe even further.

Recipe: Dad's bean cookies with dates and walnuts

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp baking powder + 1 tsp baking soda (or 1 1/3 soda + 2/3 tartar)
1/4 tsp salt
one 540-mL (19 oz) can of white kidney beans or navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg*
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3 tbsp whole flax seeds (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine the beans and applesauce in a food processor and mix until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla and brown sugar, and mix again.
  • In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flax seeds.
  • Slowly pour the bean mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir until almost combined. Add the dates and walnuts and mix again until everything is evenly distributed.
  • Form the cookies by scooping out large spoon-fulls of dough and placing them on the cookie sheet. The cookies don't spread much while baking, so you might want to flatten them a bit before putting them in the oven.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown.
These were completely delicious, and I promise they taste nothing of beans.

* to make this vegan, replace the egg with one tablespoon ground flax seeds and three tablespoons water, as explained in this post. It works just absolutely fine.


So for about the 18th time since I've been in this God-forsaken, pestilential country, I'm sick. Stuffy nose, hacking cough, sinus headaches, sore throat, the whole works. I think I slept like three hours last night. Now as everyone knows, when you're sick, all you really want is for your mummy to come and take care of you, but my mummy is 6000 km away and I don't have the money to fly home for the weekend. Not to mention sinus headaches combined with cabin pressure changes = head explosions (aka the worst pain I've ever experienced). My parents aren't particularly sympathetic, either. It's all "You aren't washing your hands enough!" and "You're going to get swine flu and die!".  So I'm more or less on my own on this one.

So, two things make me feel better when I'm sick. The first one, for sore throats and stuffy noses is as simple as honey, lemon juice, ginger (dried or fresh, but I only have dried), and hot water. And stirring. So I did that a couple dozen times yesterday.

And the second one, I guess, is mainly due to my dad. Now, my dad isn't a superstitious person. In fact, he's probably one of the most rational people I know, but he insists, with evangelical fervor, that the only thing for a cold is chicken soup. I've never been particularly impressed by the fluids argument of colds (you know the one, flush it out by drinking 13 litres of fluids a day), and I'm a little skeptical of most cold remedies. I'm usually of the opinion that there's pretty much nothing you can do to help you cope with a cold other than just wait it out. In fact, my mum has always said that it takes three days to catch a cold, three days to have it and three days to get rid of it, and I've found this to be true no matter how many glasses of OJ or bottles of Robitussen I down. But, I think that good nutrition is important to keep your immune system in the fight and so that you don't get struck down with bronchitis (the horrors!) for the rest of the school year.

However, having said that, I must admit that I have approximately zero money right now and as such my cupboards are filled with rice, pasta, lentils a single onion and very little else. My fridge contains 2 very sad looking carrots and most of a packet of butter. So not a whole lot there on the vitamin C front.

However! I might have just lied a little because I do (actually did, because all this went down yesterday) have two chicken stock cubes and all my spices and an enigmatic package that I picked up in Sainsbury's labelled "Soup mix" which is actually a mixture of lentils, split peas, barley, oats and macaronis. So I had the makings for soup and, even though I usually roll my eyes whenever my dad mentions the words "cold" and "soup" within a minute and a half of each other, I decided to go for it.

My dad makes soup with a stock that he makes by boiling the carcass of a chicken we've previously roasted and eaten. He's old school like that. Elizabeth and I have done it with two frozen chicken thighs. But, as I mentioned, I don't have money and was in no mood to venture in to the wide world in search of meat, so I stuck with the stock cubes. Hey, lentils are protein too, right?

Soup is one of these amazing dishes that literally cannot and should not be made the same way twice. So I'm going to tell you how I did it, how I might do it again, how you could do it, etc. but you should really just follow your instinct (and your cupboards) when you do it yourself. So here goes:

Soup (this time)
One or two onions, chopped
A couple cloves of garlic, chopped
Some vegetable oil, or butter
Stock cubes of your choice (2-3)
A couple of carrots, chopped
Soup mix (see above), or else any combination of the following: lentils, split peas, pearl barley, regular barley (? not sure what the difference is), rolled oats, (pasta). (I usually really hate putting pasta in soup because it inevitably gets really soggy and disgusting, but if you really REALLY have to then I guess it's ok. I'll just pick it out.)
About a cup full of rice (oh yeah, I don't have any measuring utensils here, so a "cup full" literally means find a cup or mug and fill it with rice. Ditto "big spoon" and "little spoon" for future reference).
Some frozen corn
Some frozen peas
Any other frozen vegetables you would like/have in your freezer
Various herbs spices, optional (I used garam masala, cumin powder, whole cumin seeds, mustard seeds, kalonji (black onion seeds), dried ginger, paprika, turmeric, oregano, "mixed mediterranean herbs" and fresh thyme)

Now I'm not really going to do a blow-by-blow style recipe, but more of a story, because it's so changeable that things don't always have to happen in the same order. So be warned.

Usually I would fry the onion(s) and garlic in a little oil before adding the stock to that, but I forgot this time, mostly because I was foggy-cold-brained. So I filled my pot up with water and added the "soup mix" (you would add the lentils and split peas now if that's what you're using). I won't tell you the whole long story, but suffice it to say that in general I don't really like mushy foods, so I would save the rice for a bit later, and if you're using pasta, put it in right at the very end.

Notice how you (slash I) added the lentils to water, not to stock. This is because I think that when you add the stock too soon, the water boils off and leaves it too stock-y and then it's really hard to get the balance right again. So I boil the lentils and things in water and add the stock and spices closer to the end. Some people would argue that if you do this then the lentils don't soak up the flavour of the stock, but I've never noticed a difference doing it this way and I DO notice a difference when the end result is either too stock-y (because too much water boiled off and wasn't replenished) or too watery (because too much water was put back in).

So back to the story. Boil that soup mix until the lentils are starting to get soft, or you get impatient, which ever comes first (it was definitely the latter for me, resulting in a somewhat crunchy, but still edible soup). Add your stock now, or later, whatever. I think I did it at this point, but can't really remember. Anyways, I also added the onion and garlic which I had forgotten to fry, along with the carrots. And then I added the rice. Although, with hindsight, I probably should have put the rice in first and let it cook a bit before adding the vegetables (I ended up with slightly crunchy rice and slightly soggy carrots, but, again, it was still delicious). Also from now until the end, keep adjusting the spice/stock/water levels, until you are happy with the result. I just put about a shake or two of each kind of spice/herb and added more of whatever I felt was missing. I put some pepper in too, which I forgot to mention in the ingredients. And if you do add more water to top up the stock, you'll probably want to add a bit of salt too (I don't care about the evils of sodium, soup needs to be salty).

So! Now you've got a pot full of stock, pulses, rice, vegetables and spices. Keep it boiling until everything is the desired tenderness. When everything is juuuuuuuuust right, add your frozen vegetables. Bring the soup back to the boil and when that's done, the soup is ready.

My dad will leave his pot of soup on the back burner of the stove (or occasionally in the fridge if there's room) for days and bring it up to a boil everyday for about 10 minutes, thereby killing off any germs. I prefer just to portion mine out and freeze it, but different strokes for different folks. Here are my (ginormous) portions (I only had two clean tupperwares, ok?) ready to go in the freezer (with lids). Oh, I should mention that if you're freezing or even refrigerating this (or anything, really), you should let it cool down to room temperature first, because if you put hot things in the fridge or freezer, 1) it will heat up everything in there already, encouraging things to go off sooner and 2) it will heat up the air in the fridge/freezer, making the cooling device turn on and your electricity bill skyrocket. So I hope you don't get sick any time soon, but if you do, at least you'll be prepared now!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Last weekend I went apple-picking.

Apple tree 15kg of apples

I decided to ride my bike to the apple farm, which is "conveniently" located at the extreme western tip of Montreal island, 55km from my apartment. I arrived at the farm in 3 hours, disoriented and sunburned, only to find it closed!

What else could I do but bike another 10km to the next farm? This one was on Île-Perrot, another island a bit southwest of Montreal. It was already dark by the time I gathered enough apples and headed home (on the train this time). The train came from nowhere, suddenly blinding us with light in an otherwise dark and undeveloped part of the island. I heaved my bike on-board with sticky, apple-scented hands and 15kg of apples on my back.

And then I made applesauce.


Be advised that you should use sweeter apples for applesauce (i.e. not Granny Smith). I used a combination of Cortland and Macintosh.

Recipe: applesauce
6-8 apples
1/4 to 1/2 cup water (or apple juice)
pinch cinnamon
  • Peel the apples, then core and cut into pieces. (Hint: this is made easier with an apple-cutter).
  • Place the apples in a large pot with the water and cinnamon. The water should not cover all the apples.
  • Boil until the apples are extremely soft and you can mash them up with a fork. If you added too much water you can boil it off here (as I did), or you can add water if necessary.
  • Blend the entire mixture using a food processor or blender, until it reaches the consistency of uh, applesauce. Alternatively (if you don't have either of these tools), you could use a potato masher or a fork.
  • Ladle into a jar and refrigerate.
***** You should not need to add any sugar.
Your applesauce could be preserved by following the USDA food preservation guidelines. Or wait until next week when I will surely try it on my own.

Next project: apple butter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Walnut-fig soda bread


So admittedly I had nothing to do with this recipe. I happened to have walnuts, figs and buttermilk lying around in excess, so I found this recipe and followed the directions down to the last teaspoon. I wasn't expecting much. But then, this beautiful loaf manifested itself perfectly in my oven. It turned out so perfectly that I needed to share it with you.

Next time I might experiment with some other nuts or dried fruits, and maybe add flax seeds or other grains. Oh man, the possibilities are endless. I am so excited.

Here is the recipe, from Canadian Living. A few tips not mentioned in the article: (1) Be sure not to over-mix the dough. (2) After it's finished baking, don't cut into the loaf until it is totally cooled off!

Good bye, and good luck.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mug Cake Update

So eggs are not one of the things that I usually have hanging around the house. Milk, yes. Butter, yes. Onions, potatoes, flour, sugar, yes, yes, yes, yes. But eggs, no. So when I had a late-night (ok 7:30 in the evening, but I didn't feel like going to the stores, ok?) chocolate craving, I had a conundrum. I had all the ingredients for chocolate mug cake, minus the eggs. Well, and the vanilla, but you can't have everything. However! Thanks to my vegan friends, I had heard tell of the mythic "egg substitute". I also knew it was possible, if a bit guess-work-y, to replace eggs with things you can find around the house. Things that aren't eggs. So. I had a potential solution. I did a quick google, and found that you can replace one egg with 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tbsp vinegar (plus some water). "Bingo!" I thought. So, I gave it a shot.

Well, the mug that I was using was a bit smaller than the one I used in Montreal, so I decided to use slightly less of each ingredient (well ok, except for the cocoa. and the sugar), and we don't have measuring utensils or a clean teaspoon, so I had to eyeball it. Anyways, my roommate and I had a brief moment of excitement when the vinegar went in on top of the baking powder and fizzed, then I mixed it all up and we were back down to business. I popped it in the microwave for a safe 2 and a half minutes (I'm not sure how British microwaves compare to Canadian ones, so I didn't want to overdo it) and sat back to watch the show.

All of a sudden it started growing. "Not to worry," thought I, "this is to be expected." But then I noticed that the part that was growing (rapidly) above the rim of the cup looked significantly more liquid than it should. As I watched, it started spilling over the side of the cup, and with the speed and agility of a panther on meth I popped open the microwave, grabbed the mug and rushed over to the dishes drawer (yes, drawer) where I carefully held it over a plate until it stopped spilling over. My roommate Naomi was there to catch the single wayward drip. So, as the batter was still, well, batter, I put the mug on the plate and put it back in the microwave.

Naomi and I spent the remaining two minutes and seven seconds watching the contents of the mug bubble and froth, spilling over the edges of the mug and on to the plate. When the microwave dinged and we opened the door, this is what greeted us:

Mug cake, mark II

Well, the moral of the story is this: if you're going to attempt to make this at home without eggs, go easy on the baking powder and vinegar (I used white, btw). In addition to the aesthetic problems associated with this particular experiment, there was a distinct taste of, well, baking powder and vinegar. There are probably a variety of factors that contributed to this: the lack of appropriate measuring utensils, my perhaps too enthusiastic use of this particular egg substitute recipe, the lack of vanilla... I could go on. The cake was definitely edible, but not as delicious as I have had it, which was disappointing.

Anyways, good luck in your egg-substituting endeavors. And learn from my mistakes!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


So, you're all wondering, where has Zoe been for the last month and a half? Well I will tell you. I've been here:
And here:

And also all of these places:
Gageac-Rouillac Castle





And now here I am finally settled in London. I'm going to put my obvious hat on here and tell you that things are very different in London than the way they are in Montreal, or even Toronto. They drive on the wrong side of the road, which means I nearly get killed every time I try and jaywalk because I look the wrong way (speaking of which, jaywalking isn't illegal here?). Lining up (queuing) is a way of life. And just about all vegetables in supermarkets come pre-packaged. Which means that if you are a poor student cooking for yourself, you end up with way more food than you need because it's impossible to buy one or two handfuls of spinach, say, or fewer than 3 zucchini (courgettes). Also, I basically have to speak a different language (hence the translations in brackets), even more so than in Montreal, which is pretty ironic. Almost as ironic as raaaaaiiiiiiiiiiin on your wedding day.

So, what I'm trying to tell you is that the other day found myself (or rather my fridge) with 2 onions, 3 potatoes, 2 tomatoes and 1 bag of spinach all about to go off at the same time because they were all (necessarily) bought at the same time. Well the potatoes and onions weren't about to go off, but I still had them in the cupboard. Also maybe I like to exaggerate a lot.

Also, I had invested a good 10 pounds (my Canadian keyboard doesn't have the pound currency sign and I have been too lazy to look online for the keyboard shortcut for it) in kitting out my spice box (actually a cereal box with one big side artistically cut out of it). So, being in England, the land of the curry (or something), I decided to attempt a saag aloo, or spinach and potato curry.

So here it is.

Saag Aloo A La Zoe

About half a teaspoon each of: coriander seeds, cumin seeds (or a little more than a half tsp of these), kalonji (black onion seeds), black mustard seeds (or a little more). You can find all these at your local Indian grocery store, but check your regular grocery store jic. (That's just in case).
About a quarter tsp of fenugreek (semi-optional, I usually get away without fenugreek, but it does add a really nice flavour, and it was one of the ones i bought). Side note: fenugreek is one of the things in my life that I'm both inexplicably drawn to and repelled by. The way it looks is both appealing and a little revolting to me. The cerebellum is another such thing.
A few shakes of turmeric
Some of those red pepper/chili flakes, or something else to make it hot (chili powder, chopped red hot chili peppers, etc.). My hand slipped when I was pouring them in and I ended up with a lot more than I thought I wanted (maybe a tablespoon and a half? maybe 2?), but it ended up being really nice.
1 onion, chopped into medium-sized pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (or garlic paste)
2 medium potatoes (the waxy kind? I don't know, the ones I used were the kind with the nice soft skin, not the kind with the really dirty skin), chopped into about 1cm cubes
2 medium tomatoes, chopped about the same size as the potatoes. (I just used regular plain old, not fancy plum or anything, but you can use what you like. You could also use canned tomatoes, or, in a real pinch, tomato paste+water. Or just leave them out I guess, but they're really nice. You know what? Just go out and buy some tomatoes, they're good and good for you.)
Most of a bag of spinach, or as much as you want to put in? I don't know how big the bag was, and I've already thrown it out. Sorry.
  • So. Get out a big pot with a lid. It doesn't actually have to be too big (you're not making 15 gallons of soup), just big enough. As Elizabeth will tell you, I'm terrible at guessing the right size pot for whatever I'm making and, as usual, I chose too small for this one. Oh well, that's why God invented lids, so you can just squish everything down to fit.
  • Put your whole spices (that's everything from coriander to fenugreek) in the pan (with no oil) and put the lid on. Heat on a med-high heat until things start to turn brown and smell really nice and spicy. Actually, scratch that, you won't be able to tell the colour or the smell very well because the lid will be on. Heat on a med-high heat until the mustard seeds start popping (you'll be able to hear it). Remove from heat immediately and (leaving the lid on) set aside until the popping stops. Empty them into your pestle and mortar/spice grinder/deep and narrow bowl with a strong spoon and grind to a sort of powdery consistency (or as close as you can get to powder with a bowl and spoon like I was using without driving yourself crazy). No biggie if there are a few whole seeds still, or even if you can't be bothered to grind them, but it really does make it nicer!
    • Side note on spices: it's really best to buy whole spices and toast them and grind them as you need them. If you can't be bothered though, by all means by pre-ground spices, they just don't last as long or taste as fresh. But they do have a time and a place! For reference, you don't usually need to grind mustard seeds, kalonji or a few other spices, but it's easier to do all the spices at once. Coriander I would grind if possible, along with cumin. Fennel too, although not every time. Fenugreek you could probably go either way with.
  • Put some vegetable (not olive) oil or butter in the bottom of the (now empty) pan. It should be enough to cover the bottom, plus a tiny little bit extra. Fry the onions on low or medium low (it will depend on your stove) until they're translucent and beginning to get a bit of colour.
  • If you like the way garlic tastes (nice and spicy!) when it's almost raw, add it after the potatoes. Otherwise, add it now.
  • Add the potato chunks. Stir every so often until they're almost cooked. With mine, they kept sticking to the bottom and making like a crust on the bottom of the pan that was threatening to burn and ruin the whole thing so I took a couple of extra steps: I scraped as much as I could off the bottom with the big spoon, I added a bit more butter and then scraped again and finally I added the tomatoes too early. You could "deglaze" (the technical term!) with a little bit of lemon juice (which I didn't have), but I figured that tomatoes are pretty acidic (right?) so I just used them. Damn! I guess I could just have used the tomato juice and saved the tomato chunks for the right time! Oh well, it wasn't ruined. The important thing, though, is to add whatever you're using to deglaze then scrape like crazy to get all the stuff off the bottom.
  • Add the turmeric and chili flakes.
  • Add the tomatoes and stir it up to get all the stuff off the bottom.
  • Add the spinach on top of everything (don't attempt to stir unless you're certain you can do it without flinging spinach everywhere. I learned that the hard way.) Instead, turn the heat down as far as it will go (or even turn it off) and just push the lid down to steam the spinach on top of the potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Keep an eye on it, and when the spinach has wilted enough, give it a good stir and get it all mixed up more or less evenly (can be harder than it sounds).
  • Taste it and see if anything needs adjusting. I added a bit of salt to mine, but you might think it needs a bit more heat (chili flakes or black pepper) or more cumin (this is the time and place for that pre-ground cumin!)
  • Serve with rice or your choice of Indian breads.


What's that? Why yes, yes that is my very own GAS STOVE. You say you'd like a better picture of it? Of course!

That's right

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Russian Tomatucumber Salad

This salad saved my life.

Or rather, it was a huge part of my diet for an entire month in Russia. Late July is (seemingly) the peak of the tomatucumber season in Russia (er, the tomato and cucumber seasons), so they were everywhere. Many people I stayed with grew their own cucumbers and tomatoes, along with green onions and dill.

And so this salad was born. I encountered it on several different occasions, in different locations. Everyone seems to make the same salad, and rightfully so. It is so delicious and simple that I'm still making it here in Montreal. I should note that before this trip I did not like cucumbers, tomatoes or dill.

Consider my mind blown.

Recipe: Delicious Salad of Russia

1-2 small cucumbers, or half of one English cucumber, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, cut into manageable pieces
1-2 green onions, sliced up
a small bunch of dill
olive oil
salt (to taste)

Combine everything into a bowl. Don't add too much olive oil--you don't want the tomatucumberes swimming in it. Just drizzle a bit over the top.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Strawberry, Fool!

Probably the dish that epitomizes summer, to me, is a fool. No, I don't mean that kind of fool. Or even that kind. I mean something that just screams "summer", and that's perfect for anyone, anytime, anywhere. It's decadent, sweet, and basically the most wonderful thing ever invented.

Before you ask, I have no idea why it's called a fool. Until very recently, and due mostly to my sub-par, cereal-box/core French (all you Canadians know what I'm talkin' 'bout), I was convinced it was "foule", i.e. "crowd", maybe because of the "crowd" of fruit in it? Well, now that I now the real name, I have more questions than answers, but don't worry, that doesn't detract from my enjoyment of it.


So. Now that you're salivating (I hope), I'm going to make you promise me something before I give you the secret recipe. You must never ever ever under ANY circumstances make this in winter, with those horrible "berries" that cost $6/100g and taste like sawdust. You can ONLY make this when berries are in season in your area, and you have to buy them as local as possible. Ideally from your very own back yard, picked right before you make this. Because really, summer is all about freshness and the beauty of growing things, and fruit that travelled thousands of kilometers to get to your grocery store and doesn't really bear any resemblance to berries fresh off the bush is kind of anathema to that.

Fools can be made with pretty much any kind of soft fruit, like rhubarb, plums, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries... You can also mix and match to suit availability. I prefer fresh berries, either solo or in combination, but I won't say no to fool in any guise. This recipe is for strawberry fool, but it's pretty much the same no matter what kind of fruit you choose. I should quickly note, though, that if you're not using berries or something else really soft and juicy (like extra-ripe peaches or plums), it might be worth it to cut the fruit up bite-size and simmer it with sugar and just a little bit of water. This will soften the fruit and get the juices going, and is especially important with rhubarb. (You should use a lot of sugar with rhubarb.)

I should note, however, that wherever your berries come from, they should be room temperature, to maximize flavour. The cream, on the other hand, should be really cold (not frozen), because it will whip a lot better. SO. The recipe:

Strawberry Fool
Ripe strawberries (it doesn't really matter how many, as long as the amount of cream you whip can contain them), with a few reserved
Whipped cream* (an amount corresponding to how many strawberries you have)
Sugar, to taste
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mash the strawberries with a fork. You want them kind of chunky, but so that you really have whole strawberry pieces. But I guess it's kind of a matter of personal taste...
  • Drain as much of the juice as possible into another dish. You can always add it back in if you want, but it tends to make everything watery and slightly less than perfect.
  • Add the whipped cream to the bowl and GENTLY fold until combined. If you're too rough with it, the cream will either collapse or (if you're really rough) turn to strawberry butter (which is a post for another day).
  • Give it a taste, and if you think it needs more sugar, add it now, then mix it in (gently)
  • Drink the strawberry juice, because it is just too delicious to waste, and if you do it now, then no one will know they didn't get any.
  • Dish it out and put a couple of the reserved strawberries on top of each helping.
  • DON'T EAT IT ALL YOURSELF! Even though you want to. It's soooo much better when you share it with friends.
*Whipped cream. I know some of you think it comes out of a can. Well I would just like to tell you right now that the stuff in the can is "edible oil product", meaning it has no idea what a cow even looks like, much less spent part of its existence in one. Besides, whipping cream is probably one of the easiest, chefiest things you can do. The only hard part is knowing when to stop. So I'm going to tell you how to do it, old school: no edible oil products involved.
Whipping cream (also called double cream, 36% m.f.), really cold
Sugar (optional)
Vanilla extract (optional)
  • Put the cream into a bowl (pre-chilled, if you like)
  • Using a whisk, two forks, an electric mixer (with whisk attachments) or a stand mixer (ditto), whip the cream. It will get frothy, then gradually stiffen until it will stand up in peaks if you take the whisk out (turn the mixer off first!).
  • STOP. Immediately. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. If you whip it too much, it will turn into butter, and this happens very quickly and with very little warning. It's better to have cream that is slightly less stiff than to have butter.
  • It is delicious as is, but if you like you can add a bit of sugar and/or a few drops of vanilla extract. Mix it in with the whisk.
So there you go, two recipes for the price of one. And, for a limited time only, I will throw in a free TIP: if you happen to splash/drop strawberry (or any other fruit juice) on your clothes, immediately remove the affected item and pour hot (preferably boiling) water on to it from a height. This is probably best done in a sink or bathtub (not over your little brother), and be careful not to splash yourself. The stain should come out before your very eyes.


Sunday, June 14, 2009


I've baked a lot of banana bread in my time.

I've been around the block. I know what's up. I've tried banana bread with cake flour, with whole wheat flour, with nuts, with raisins, with rolled oats, with white sugar, with brown sugar, with dulce de leche, with pecans, etc. I've seen it all.

So I think it's about time I shared my knowledge with you.

The recipe I will share is adapted from my grandmother's recipe. I can remember one night last year when I desperately called home searching for it, and had my dad read the steps out to me so I could copy them down. I make this bread all the time, and my copy of the recipe is now stained with batter spots and the ink is bleeding off the page.

I've changed a few things over the months (more nuts, less sugar...), but the general ideas remain the same.

Recipe: Banana Bread
3 ripe bananas (the skin should have lots of brown specks)
1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1.5 cups flour (I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans work well)
  • Prepare your loaf pan. Either butter the pan and dust it with flour, or line it with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a large bowl, mix applesauce into mashed bananas.
  • Add sugar, egg and vanilla.
  • Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture, then incorporate the flour and nuts. Be sure to work quickly! If you mix it up too much or stall, the bread won't cook properly.
  • Immediately transfer the mixture into your pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the bread is a nice, dark brown color.
  • Let it cool for at least 15 minutes. This is important. The bread is still cooking even though it's out of the oven, and if you cut into it right away it might not ever finish. Ever.
  • Eat and enjoy along with a glass of milk.
Variations: You could add 1/2 cup of rum raisins to the mix, if you're into that. Or blueberries, or chopped apples. Zoe claims chocolate chips also work well, but I don't know if I buy it.

* * * Update: I have modified the recipe once again! Testing has proven applesauce an adequate substitute for butter in this recipe.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Peach-Blackberry Procrastination Pie

I have a habit of baking things to divert myself from studying. This time it's for my summer course on the theory of Probability, which is actually just Calculus and Statistics in a clever disguise. But wait, isn't everything?

I've noted before that I take significant cooking inspiration from what is on special at my local grocery store(s). Yesterday I was quickly drawn in by the blackberries and peaches, which happen to be two of the most delicious fruits ever. Obviously I snatched up as many as I could carry in my book bag and even returned today for more. I ended up with, like, seven boxes of blackberries and two large bags of peaches.

You couldn't expect me to sit around studying with all these fresh fruits lying around, could you? Oh, the temptation.

So I baked a pie. You know, for some study energy.

Last week, I found a used copy of The Joy of Cooking, which has been incredibly helpful. The great thing about this book is its basic explanations of various fruits, breads, grains, etc. I've already used it to figure out how to eat figs, and classify different types of pasta. The illustrations are probably my favorite part. Now I know exactly how to clean a squid, or make a sectioned brioche loaf. And chances are, if I buy some random vegetable and don't know what to do with it, Joy can tell me. She also has an extensive section on pie-baking.

So first off... I'll talk about the pastry.

Before this week, I had been using Martha Stewart's recipe, which turns out to be exactly the same as Joy's recipe. I pretty much always use butter as the source of fat needed for the pastry, but Zoe has told me she uses lard. We might include further discussion on this in a later post. Joy claims you can also use shortening, but... ew.

Recipe: Flaky pastry crust
2.5 cups flour (I used 1.5 cups unbleached all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter (or your preferred source of fat)
.25 to .5 cups ice water
  • Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix it up with the flour so that it's all evenly distributed.
  • Process the flour-butter in a food processor until it resembles "coarse meal". This means it should look like tiny pebbles in sand. The mixture should feel powdery and not greasy. (You can split it up into two batches if you have a small food processor like I have.)
  • With the processor running, slowly pour in the water. Don't add too much--you want the mixture to just barely stick together. Try pinching a little bit between your fingers. If it's still crumbly, add a little bit more water. Be careful not to process it too much. We want to keep the butter in small pebbles.
  • Press all the dough together so it coheres. Then split it up into two discs, kind of like big hockey pucks (lol Canada). Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using. You can also store these in your freezer for up to 6 months, apparently.
Rolling out the dough should be pretty self-explanatory. You just need a rolling-pin, some counter space and extra flour. Lightly flour your surface and rolling-pin. Place the dough-puck on the surface, and roll it from the center out to all directions. You want to try and keep it shaped as a circle, but if it assumes a weird shape you can fix it. Just cut off the protruding pieces and move them to where they need to be. Overlap the edges of the two pieces of dough and roll them back together. Roll the dough out 3-4 inches larger than it needs to be for your pan, and be sure to seal up any cracks before placing it.

I lined my pie pan with parchment paper, only because previous endeavors have exposed it as non non-stick. Greasing the pan with butter should also work--I was just being overly precautious.

You will probably want to make the pie filling while your pie crust is in the fridge, because it takes some time. Please note that you can use the pastry recipe above for lots of different pies! It will work for any sort of fruit pie, pecan pie... whatever.

Recipe: Peach-blackberry filling
2 cups blackberries (raspberries would also work well)
3 cups peaches (this was about 6 peaches for me, I think.)
0.75 cups sugar
3.5 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • Peel the peaches and chop them up into small pieces (about 1 cm).
  • Combine the chopped peaches, blackberries and other ingredients (but not the butter yet!!) into a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes, stirring every once and a while.
The point of adding the corn starch is to thicken the filling so that you can actually cut into the pie and eat it with a fork, rather than dumping the whole juicy thing into a bowl and eating it with a spoon (still tasty).

For pie assembly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Preheat your oven to 400° F.
  • Roll out the first disc of dough and fit it into your (possibly lined) pie dish. Leave that extra dough hanging over the edge for now.
  • Spoon the filling into your pastry, and then sprinkle the cubes of butter (from the filling recipe) on top of all that fruity deliciousness.
  • Roll out the second disc of dough for the top crust. Brush the overhanging dough of the bottom crust with water or egg, then fit the top crust on. Press the edges together to seal the whole thing up. You can then fashion this crust into various edge designs. Trim any spots that have a huge excess of dough.
  • Brush the top crust with egg or milk, and sprinkle some sugar on it. Cut vents into the top of the crust and pop it in the oven.
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, and then turn the temperature down to 350 and bake for another 25-35 minutes, or until thick juices bubble through the vents. You might want to put a baking sheet on the oven rack below your pie to keep things clean.
  • Try to let the pie cool completely before digging in.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's Pimm's o'clock!

Well, summer is more or less upon us, and that can mean only one thing: refreshing cocktails. For me, last summer was "the summer of gin", with many still, humid evenings passed with a gin and tonic in hand. This summer, it would appear that the household is branching even further into late nineteenth century colonial British territory and has purchased a bottle of Pimm's. No, not those delicious, jam-filled cookies, but a sort of tonic one drinks while watching one's cricket match. Or else while relaxing in one's pith helmet after a long day of big game hunting under the hot African sun.

The finished product

Mixing up a Pimm's is just about as easy as it gets. And you can change it up to suit your mood, the weather, and the availability of ingredients (except of course the main ingredient, the Pimm's). It's not really worth a recipe, as the basic cocktail is given on the back of the bottle, but I wanted to post about it to get the Pimm's word out there. It's actually one of the best summer cocktails. Like, ever.

So herewith I present to you Pimm's, in all it's glory.
A perfectly Pimm's cocktail
(All ingredients, except the Pimm's, are more or less optional)
1 part Pimm's No. 1 Cup
2 parts tonic water, lemonade, sparkling lemonade or soda water
A shot of gin
A few slices each of cucumber, orange, lemon, strawberries, apple (or any combination of the above)
A few leaves of mint, torn into medium-sized pieces
A few borage flowers, if available
  • Put all the fruit and veg in the bottom of your serving jug
  • Add lots of ice
  • Measure out 1/3 of the total remaining volume of your jug in Pimm's. Add to jug
  • Add gin, if using
  • Fill the jug the rest of the way with tonic water, lemonade or soda water
  • Mix gently, but well
  • Garnish with mint and borage
  • Serve. As far as I can tell, appropriate Pimm's glasses include a highball glass, a Collins glass, a large wine glass (with or without stem), an iced tea glass or (and this may be pushing it) a champagne coupe. Make sure that each glass gets at least one of each kind of sliced fruit/veg and some ice.
  • Put on your pith helmet, cricket whites and/or handlebar mustache, sit outside somewhere sunny and enjoy the drink that my dad calls "thoroughly civilised"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Green Beans

Most illustrious and meritable blog: to you I would like to proffer one of my most celebrated and most highly regarded recipes: green beans with honey-soy sauce. These are not just ANY green beans. Zoe introduced them to me a few months ago, and since then they have become a staple in my diet. I cook these at least once a week. They are like, reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally good. And worthy of your appraisal, dear blog.

The introduction of this recipe was spurred by a joint trip to the grocery store, where green beans were on mega-sale. Zo and I gathered up a modest bundle of them and created this masterpiece (pictured above). A week or so later, I was desperate to recreate the dish and requested the recipe from Zoe in written form. I've basically kept it the same and added a few notes:
Recipe: delicious green beans

Lots of uncooked green beans (today I used about 200 grams, but pictured above is quite a bit more, maybe 300-350g).
2-3 cloves of garlic
honey, soy sauce and hot water for the sauce
  • Cut the ends off the beans and mince up the garlic. If you're feeling lazy, Zoe claims you can just slice the garlic and not mince it.
  • Cook the garlic in a frying pan/skillet with ≈ 1 tbsp oil (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan).
  • Once it's soft (but not brown) add all the green beans and start them cooking. Try to arrange the beans so that they all get some pan space. Cook them until they start to shrivel up, or to your desired done-ness (I prefer them like this, but Zoe recommends that they are brown and shrivelly). In any case, just make sure they are soft enough to absorb some of the sauce.
  • Add the sauce (recipe below!)
  • Cook over medium high heat for another few minutes, turning the beans every so often to coat them until the sauce turns into a glaze.
To make the sauce:
  • Add about half a spoonful of honey and two spoonfuls of hot (boiling water) to a small bowl. Mix to dissolve the honey.
  • Add 2+ spoonfuls of soy sauce. I stopped at 2, but those of you who don't like too much sweetness in your green beans might add more to balance out the honey.
  • If desired (and we usually so desire), add crushed red pepper flakes and/or some of that asian hot chili sauce. By "some," Zoe recommends "a bit more than you think you should."
  • Mix.

If you're feeling really generous like Zoe, you can split them up between a few people. But if you're like me you will just eat all of them yourself.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Deviled Eggs

I'd imagine most of you, while reading about our Easter feast, immediately stopped and thought, "WAIT. THEY ARE MISSING THE MOST IMPORTANT RECIPE!!!!"

You know what I'm talking about. That's right, deviled eggs.

I'm going to admit that prior to our Easter celebration I thought everyone liked deviled eggs. It turns out Zoe and James (our Easter guest) don't, and I am the only deviled egg fan. Which explains why I am writing this post solo.

Usually when I make deviled eggs, I just guess the quantities of every ingredient and don't measure anything. For the benefit of this post, however, I made a special batch and was sure to write everything down. Here is what I've come up with.

RECIPE: Deviled eggs

2 eggs
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
0.25 teaspoon mustard
1 of those mini-pickles (chopped up really small)
pickle juice (≈ 1.5 teaspoon)
salt and pepper (to taste)

  • Boil the eggs.
    • HINT: Put the eggs into a pot and fill it with water (the water level should be at least a centimeter above the eggs). Bring the water and eggs to a boil and turn the heating element to low or off. Cover and wait 10-12 minutes before taking the eggs out. They should be hard-boiled, and the centers won't be green and gross-looking.
  • Peel the eggs and slice them in half. Scoop out the yolks and put them into a bowl. Mash up the yolks.
  • Add the mayonnaise, mustard and chopped pickle. The chopped pickle is really key here, since it adds necessary texture. If you're a real mustard fan, you can add more mustard.
  • Add the pickle juice until the mixture reaches the consistency you want. For me this was about 1.5 teaspoons, but it could change depending on how much mustard you've added or whatever.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Spoon the mixture back into the eggs and sprinkle with paprika (important!)
    • Note: If you want to try to be fancy and pipe/squeeze the mixture into the eggs through a plastic bag or pastry tip, whatever. Go ahead and do it on your own time, but just don't show up at my doorstep with your eggs looking like that. It's just silly.
Makes 4 deviled egg-halves. Feel free to double, or quadruple or otherwise increase this recipe.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


So. Another semester and all of our finals are now over. One of us (Zo) has left everyone's favourite city to spend the summer with her family in Ontario, then to go on exchange next year, meaning that this blog is going to change a little. Instead of being largely a chronicle of our collective culinary creations, it will be a place for the two of us to share, with you and with each other, our experiences in our own kitchens over the next year and a half or so. But, before that, we have to share our most ambitious, and most successful, undertaking yet: Easter dinner.

The main event

There are a few requirements for Easter dinner, at least chez Zo. Number one: roast lamb. Number two: new potatoes. To make up the rest of the dinner, we decided to use sides that go well with any roast dinner: steamed cabbage and glazed carrots. Finally, somebody has a weird attachment to deviled eggs, which will be their own post, so she made some for her own dinner.

We got up epic-ly early on Easter Saturday in order to head for the market and buy what we would be needing for Monday's dinner. Unfortunately, in our vernal zeal, we got there so early that all the meat-selling stalls were not yet open. We strolled around, bought our herbs and vegetables and, there being still plenty of time before the meat-stalls opened, sat down to an oh-so-European breakfast of chocolat chaud and croissants à l'érable. Eventually, we headed over to the stalls, only to find that the lamb was priced at approximately
$10, 982, 398, 798, 234 /lb. Or something equally out of our price range. So we walked back home and nabbed the last leg of lamb in the grocery store.

Well, having never cooked a roast of meat on our own before, we were understandably apprehensive. We diligently scoured the internet (ok, we searched "lamb" on the BBC food site) and came up with this recipe, complete with video instructions. The recipe for the lamb itself was great, and we stuck with it pretty much 100%, except, because our leg was slightly larger than 2 kilos (it was the only one left in the store, ok?), so we cooked it a bit longer. We were also without a meat thermometer, so we had to go by the handy guide printed onto Eliz's oven, and by how delicious the meat looked. And boy, did it look delicious.

We opted against the gravy included in that recipe, and instead went with a more traditional mint sauce. The recipe we used calls for waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much mint, so we ended up with waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much sauce. But oh well, c'est la vie. Here is a relatively good recipe, but remember that, especially with this kind of thing, measures are approximate and you should just do what tastes good.

Mint Sauce for Roast Lamb
A bunch (≈ 5-10g?) of fresh mint
1 tbsp (+) hot (recently boiled) water
1 tsp (+) sugar
2 tbsp (+) vinegar (white wine or cider would work best, but red wine or sherry would also work. Do NOT use white or malt vinegar. You will regret it.)
  • Chop the mint very finely, or use a food processor. If using a food-processor, do not whizz it so fine that it becomes a paste. You want small, reasonably regular, pieces a few millimeters across. It's also ok if they're a bit bigger (like if you're chopping).
  • Put the mint into a small bowl, or whatever vessel you're using to serve the sauce. Pour enough freshly boiled water over it to cover, plus a little bit more.
  • Leave it to steep for 15-20 minutes. You're basically making a mint tea here, which you will flavour, thereby turning it into a sauce. It's like magic!
  • Add sugar and vinegar. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
  • Taste it to make sure it's well balanced. It should be sweet, tart, minty and super-duper yummy. Add more vinegar or sugar (or both) to taste.
So. The roast is in the oven and the sauce is ready to go. Next up: the sides. These all require about the same cooking time which is kind of handy and also kind of frustrating: it's somewhat difficult to prepare three dishes at once. I recommend getting the prep work done before the meat goes in the oven, so that everything can be ready at once. So, in no particular order, I present: The Sides.
Glazed Carrots
500g carrots, chopped
500 ml water
25g sugar
1 tsp salt
50g butter
  • Put all ingredients in an appropriately sized saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer
  • Simmer for a long time, until almost all of the liquid has gone. It should be a glaze (hence, "glazed carrots"). If you think it's done, leave it a little longer for added deliciousness. The glaze may even begin to caramelize (turn brown and become caramel), which is fine. And scrumptious.
New Potatoes
As many new potatoes (the little ones with the fine skins) as you can eat.
A few more new potatoes, because they are just so moreish, and you can fry them up the next morning for excellent home fries.
Some butter, to serve.
  • Wash the potatoes in cold water and cut out any gross pieces or eyes.
  • Put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
  • Bring them to the boil and keep them there until a fork goes in them easily (they feel as they would if they were on your plate), about 20 minutes.
  • Serve with butter. Yum.
A bit less than half a cabbage (either the curly green kind or the smooth green kind works best, but the red kind is also good), chopped into piece approximately 1 inch by 1 inch
A tiny bit of lemon juice (optional)
  • Steam the cabbage (covered) until it is soft, about 20 minutes
    • A side note on steaming: boiling will also work, but it makes the cabbage mushy, a little bit smelly, and takes all the nutrients out of it. We didn't have a steamer (a kind of double-boiler, with the inner pot being full of holes, like a colander), so we had to improvise. We took a medium-sized aluminum pie plate (the disposable kind) and trimmed it so that it fit inside our pot. We poked a bunch of holes in the aluminum with a fork and put it in the pot upside down, so that it formed a kind of raised platform on which the cabbage could sit. We put about an inch or an inch and a half of water in the bottom of the saucepan and put the cabbage in on top. Cover it with a lid and presto-change-o, you've made yourself a steamer!
  • Keep an eye on the cabbage, and maybe replenish the water in the bottom with freshly boiled water once or twice during the cooking, to make sure it doesn't boil dry. You also might want to stir the cabbage once or twice (try and flip the stuff on the bottom to the top) to make sure it cooks evenly.
  • Once the cabbage is fully cooked (it will be soft and edible-feeling), drain the water out and put the cabbage into a bowl. Add some butter (as much or as little as you feel is appropriate... although the more you add, the more delicious it will obviously be), plenty of pepper and a bit of salt, as well as a squeeze of lemon juice if you want, and mash it all up really well with a fork.
This is an extra-special meal, so we think a little extra effort is warranted.
  • Warm up the plates in the oven (but not too hot!) before you serve, to make sure the food stays warm until you can eat it.
  • Use the nicest plates, cutlery and glasses you have
  • Open a really nice bottle of wine. You deserve it after all this work!
  • Arrange the table nicely and light some candles (hey, we're students, ok? Not all of us have space or money for candlesticks, or serving dishes... or chairs)
  • Dress up in nice Easter-y clothes!
  • Listen to some Easter-appropriate music
  • Enjoy with friends or family who are just as excited about this meal as you are!