Holiday weekend

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It's our holiday weekend in Canada, the long weekend in May that's the unofficial kickoff to summer. And the weather is ... not so great. Although yesterday was cool and sunny, it's downright cold today, and it's been raining off and on all day. It's less of a "burgers in the backyard" kind of day than a "nourishing bowl at the kitchen table" moment.

Well, I'm happy to oblige. This vegetable fried rice kept me toasty warm as I watched the rain pelting on the barbecue cover, from inside the house. The recipe isn't difficult, although you'll want to have all the ingredients chopped and ready to go before you get started, because the recipe moves quickly once you begin.

I also wrote about the cold, wet weather in my last post; it seems to be the theme of the month. Looking at the weather forecast, I see they're calling for sun tomorrow, followed by another week of rain. So I'd better get that "burgers in the backyard" day in fast!


Vegetable Fried Rice
(adapted from Cookie and Kate)

Note: I halved the original recipe, and got 2+ servings. If you're cooking for a bigger group, check out the original recipe which would serve 4-5 people.

Ingredients

3/4 tsp safflower oil (first amount)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp safflower oil (second amount)
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced carrots
1 cup additional vegetables, cut into very small pieces for quick cooking (see photo above for size reference) - could include asparagus, cabbage, bell pepper, fresh or frozen peas, snow peas or broccoli)
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp safflower oil (third amount)
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup cooked brown rice  (note: if you cook the rice especially for the recipe rather than using leftovers, you'll need about 1/2 cup dry rice. Cook the rice before you start the recipe.)
1/2 cup greens
2 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Instructions

This recipe comes together quickly, so make sure you've chopped all the vegetables and set all the ingredients in a convenient spot.

Warm a large skillet over medium high heat, then add 3/4 tsp safflower owl and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the egg and cook until lightly set, stirring along the way. Transfer the eggs to a bowl and wipe out the pan with a spatula.

Return pan to heat and add 1 1/2 tsp oil. Add onion and carrots and cook, stirring often, about 3 - 5 minutes.

Add remaining vegetables and salt. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally (not too often or the edges won't turn golden), about 3 - 5 more minutes.

In the meantime, use the spatula to break up the scrambled eggs into smaller pieces.

Transfer the vegetable mixture to the pan with the cooked eggs.

Return the pan to the heat, and add the remaining 1 1/2 tsp oil. Add ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes, and stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and mix it all together. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is hot and starting to turn golden on the edges, about 3 - 5 minutes.

Add greens and green onions, and stir to combine.  (Greens should be just starting to wilt.) Add cooked vegetables and eggs, and stir again to combine. Remove from heat and stir in soy sauce and sesame oil. Taste, and add extra salt if necessary.

Divide into bowls and serve immediately. Leftovers store well in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Early Bird

Sunday, May 7, 2017


Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping,

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-pulley notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.

-Ted Kooser, "The Early Bird"

The first week of May in Toronto was very cold ... and very wet. We got more rain in four days than we usually do all month. And although I didn't pull my winter coat out again (it's May, for heaven's sake!) I saw more than a few of them on the streets this week.

When I heard the weather forecast for the weekend was more rain, I knew comfort food was in the offing. Apple recipes are usually the domain of the fall, but a cold, wet spring demands the reassurance only a spiced applesauce cake can bring.

In the end, the weather forecast was wrong (insert your favourite weatherman joke here), and we enjoyed sun most of the day. But this lovely cake is a treat no matter what the weather.


Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
(slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

For cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

For frosting

5 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup conectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a non-stick 8” or 9” square cake pan.

Make cake: Whisk together flour, baking pwder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. Mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Cool completely before frosting.

Make frosting: Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add butter and vanilla, and beat until fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon, then beat at medium speed until incorporated.


Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.

Miss Congeniality

Sunday, April 23, 2017
It's hard to photograph beige food.

No matter what you do when you photograph it, it just looks ... beige. And that's a real shame when it comes to a recipe that tastes as amazing as this one.

You may remember that a few weeks ago, I discovered how delicious farro is, and how easy it is to prepare. So this recipe for farro risotto with roasted cauliflower and gruyere was next on my list to try. If anything, I like it even better, despite its rather pale and timid appearance.

So think about this meal as the equivalent of the wallflower at a party. It may not be the recipe that makes you do a double-take, but it just might make you happy for the rest of your life.

Cauliflower and Gruyere Farro Risotto
(from Eats Well With Others)

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 Tbsp olive oil (first amount)
salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil (second amount)
1 shallot, diced
2 cups farro
5-6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups gruyere, grated

Instructions

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread the cauliflower on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and coat in 2 Tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until browned and crispy, tossing once halfway through. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the shallot and saute for 3-4 minutes, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Stir in the farro and cook for 1 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 2 cups of broth to the pot, and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the water has evaporated. Add the remaining broth 1 cup at a time, only adding more when the previous batch has just evaporated, stirring frequently, until farro is tender. (Test after you've stirred in 5 cups of broth - you may not need to add more.)

Stir in the cauliflower and the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.


Banana Muffins

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I've made these muffins many times but didn't post them until now, probably because everyone has their own favourite banana muffin recipe. But I think this one is so good, it's worth checking out.

Since I have bananas in the house most of the time, I've made many a muffin to use the overripe ones. But I was usually disappointed - so often, the finished product relied on add-ins like chocolate chips for flavour. It took me a long time, and many false starts, before I found a recipe that I thought was a keeper. The three bananas in the mix provide a ton of flavour; pecans are a nice (but not necessary) addition.

And although the original recipe called for a streusel topping, these muffins don't require any dressing up. Simple enough for breakfast, delicious enough for dessert, these banana muffins are perfect for any occasion, or no occasion at all.


Banana Muffins
(adapted from Hidden Ponies)

1 egg
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (note: you can substitute half of this amount with whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners (unless you're using a silicone pan, in which case liners aren't necessary).

Whisk egg, bananas and butter in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to banana mixture and stir until just combined. If you're adding pecans, add them in and stir just to combine.

Spoon mixture into muffin pan (makes 10 - 12 muffins, depending on how big the bananas were). Bake for 17 - 20 minutes or until tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

A farro story

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Every once in a while I post a recipe that I've been waiting to try for ages, and this is one of those. I first bookmarked it in late 2014, and I've kept it on my must-try list since. I'm not sure why it took me so long to make it, except I'd never cooked with farro before.  (For the record, it's super-easy.)

I finally made the salad this week, and it was more than worth the wait. The original recipe called for brie, which would also be nice, but I loved the way the gruyere stood up to the other strong flavours. If you don't have farro in your cupboard, barley would be a nice substitute. And feel free to use whatever combination of roasted vegetables you like best. In other words, this is a really easy recipe to play around with - but next time I make it, I won't change a thing.



Farro Salad with Butternut Squash, Red Onion and Gruyere
(adapted from Eats Well With Others)

Ingredients

3 cups water
1 cup farro, rinsed (note: barley would also be nice)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium red onion, diced
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 Tbsp minced fresh sage
3/4 cup diced gruyere
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together the olive oil, butternut squash, red onion and carrots. Season to taste with salt. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until tender.

In the meantime, bring water and farro to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 25 - 30 minutes or until farro is cooked. Drain excess water.

When the vegetables are roasted, toss them with the farro, sage and gruyere. Season to taste with salt and fresh pepper.

Pears

Sunday, March 12, 2017
A pride of lions, a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep. Is there a word for a large number of pears?

Whatever the word is, I recently had one on my counter, and it made me very happy. Once I'd made the usual muffins and crisps, though, I still had a couple left over. I needed another recipe before they over-ripened.

I found this scone recipe in the deep recesses of my bookmarks. Adding pears to scones wasn't intuitive, but I loved the way they were partnered with almonds. And scone recipes are so quick and easy, I knew they'd be ready in no time.

The flavours worked as well as I hoped. With the sweetness of the glaze, they make a perfect teatime treat - maybe even breakfast, if you're in the mood for something sweet. I think they'd be lovely even without the glaze.

And I'll make them again, the next time I'm the owner of ... an abundance of pears.

Pear Almond Scones with Honey Almond Glaze
(adapted from Good Life Eats)

For the scones:

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, sliced
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 Tbsp honey
1 pear, peeled and diced (approximately 1 scant cup)

For the glaze:

1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp honey
a couple of drops of almond extract
about 1 Tbsp milk (to reach desired consistency)
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Cut the mascarpone cheese and butter into the flour mixture until you have coarse crumbs. Mix well and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together egg, milk, almond extract and honey.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Pour in the egg mixture and the diced pear. Gently stir until the dough forms together, then turn it out on a piece of parchment paper placed on a flat surface. Knead it a few times, being gentle to avoid squishing the pears. Flatten into an 8-inch round and transfer dough and parchment paper to a baking sheet. Score into eight equal triangles.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, combine powdered sugar, honey, and almond extract. Add milk until desired consistency is reached. When scones have cooled completely, drizzle with glaze and sprinkle with sliced almonds.


Simplicity

Sunday, March 5, 2017
This recipe, and its photos, have been sitting in my files forever, waiting to be posted. I'm not sure why, other than it never seemed like much of a recipe. There are 7 ingredients and two sentences, which basically amount to, "Mix everything together and serve."

That's just part of what makes it so perfect. It doesn't hurt that two of the three salad components are taken from the freezer, and the dressing is made from pantry staples. It also doesn't hurt that the flavour is surprisingly complex, and a great side dish for grilled meat.

I think I just talked myself into posting it.


Edamame, Red Pepper and Corn Salad

Ingredients:

2 tsp sodium-reduced soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp liquid honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup frozen edamame, thawed, drained and patted dry
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed, drained and patted dry
1 cup diced sweet red pepper

In bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and garlic until blended. Stir in edamame, red pepper and corn.


Half birthdays

Sunday, February 19, 2017
When the girls were young, we celebrated half-birthdays. Half birthdays happened on the six-month anniversary of the actual birthday, and we celebrated them with half a cake. Literally, since we cut a one-tier cake in two and placed the halves on top of each other. The other rule of half-birthdays is that you do something nice for someone else (instead of receiving something as you would on your regular birthday).

We haven't celebrated half-birthdays in years, but did so recently when both girls were at home and my youngest daughter reminded me it was hers. I'm always happy to recreate childhood memories, and it was fun baking our traditional half-birthday white cake with caramel frosting.

What are your favourite family food traditions?


Half-birthday White Cake with Caramel Icing
(Note: if you want to make the whole cake, it was inspired by this recipe. The icing recipe is adapted from a recipe in Company's Coming Cakes, a cookbook I received at one of my wedding showers.)

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter one 9" round cake pan on sides and line with parchment paper on the bottom.

Using a stand mixer, cream together butter and shortening until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar, continuing to beat. Add eggs and egg white one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Continue to beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, for 2 - 3 minutes until very fluffy.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Combine milk, buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup. Add to butter mixture alternately, starting and ending with dry ingredients, stirring until smooth.

Pour cake batter into pan and bake 36 - 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let cool slightly in cake pan for 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

1 cup brown sugar, packed
6 Tbsp cream or milk
1/2 cup butter
3 cups icing sugar
8 - 12 pecans, toasted

Heat brown sugar, cream, and butter in medium saucepan until it boils. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and cool completely.

Add icing sugar and beat until smooth. (You may need to add more cream to make it spreading consistency.)

Frost the cake and top with pecans.



Repetition

Sunday, February 5, 2017

If you read my blog carefully, you'll have seen that a few weeks ago I did something I hadn't done before: double-post a recipe.

For some reason, I had no memory of posting Gingery Sweet Potato and Apple Saute in March 2015, and didn't even realize the duplication until a week after posting it again in January. At least, one might argue, they were nearly two years apart.

I'll admit life is busy now - in addition to my full-time (plus overtime) contract position, I'm juggling a few freelance projects. And maybe that's making me absent-minded. Because when I went to post a recipe today, I hovered over the cauliflower-kale gratin photos on my computer before realizing I'd posted that one six weeks ago.

After that near-miss, I triple-checked that I hadn't already posted my recipe for Garam Masala cookies. And I'm happy to say this is a brand-new recipe for my blog! I've made so many cookies in my life that it's rare to come across one that's completely different, but this one truly is. I wouldn't have imagined how great an impact garam masala would have on a batch of cookies. And I promise you this - if you make these cookies, you'll never forget them.



Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies

Adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp fresh orange zest
1/4 tsp orange extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoons garam masala
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cherries 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add egg, orange zest, and orange extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and garam masala. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed sugar mixture a little at a time until combined. Fold in oats, toasted pecans, chocolate chips and dried cherries, and stir until just mixed.

Drop rounded tablespoons full onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

-->

Fog

Sunday, January 22, 2017
Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

- Carl Sandburg, "Fog"

It was a foggy drive today as I went to visit my youngest at university. She and I cooked together, making food for a friend whose brother died this week.

"I don't know what to say when somebody dies, Mom."
"Neither do I, honey."

We take food, and say how sorry we are, and hope they know how much we care.


Pasta and Chicken with Mascarpone

Inspired by Italian Food Forever 

1 cup mascarpone cheese at room temperature
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
a few grinds of black pepper
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 1/2” dice
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 cups baby spinach
2 cups dry penne
salt (for pasta water)
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

Combine the mascarpone, zest, lemon juice and pepper in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Bring a pasta pot of salted water to boil.

While waiting for the water, heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the chicken until it is cooked through and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and spinach, and cook another minute or two, until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta until al denteDrain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Return the pasta to the pot, and set over medium heat. Stir in the mascarpone and lemon mixture, the chicken mixture,  and sun-dried tomatoes. Loosen the sauce with 1/4 cup of the water and toss the ingredients together until everything is combined, adding a little additional pasta water if needed.

Serve immediately, topped with toasted sliced almonds.