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.