Sunday, September 30, 2012

the end.

The end of what? Well, a lot of things. The end of shorts, the end of swimming in lakes and dancing with sparklers. The end of sunglasses and sundresses. The end of excuses for vacations. The end of wandering to the market and picking out a pint of berries, peaches and plums. I'm going to give one of my favourite summer fruits a grand send off. Go find the last of the summer fruit and bake something worthy of a last supper (summer?), then bid them a fond adieu until next year.

But wait! Fall is a lovely season. The chunky sweaters and rosy cheeks, the crunching leaves and thanksgiving feasts, warm soups and warm spices. I'll try and remember these while I mourn the end of the raspberries.

baked vanilla custard with raspberries
I adapted these from an old Food and Drink magazine. The original recipe used whipping cream, but I substituted 18% cream for a slightly lighter dessert. I've also included instructions for homemade raspberry jam, but you could use any thick jam you have in your fridge. These little guys remind me of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt from my childhood, but a whole lot better. Did you know you can bake things in mason jars? As long as they are the kind you would use for canning (tempered glass), they are safe for the oven, and make a great substitute for ramekins.

1 pint raspberries
1/4 cup honey

2 cups 18% cream
1/2 vanilla pod
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

extra raspberries and mint leaves for garnish

Combine raspberries and honey in a heavy bottomed pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring to mash berries. Turn heat to low, and cook until thick and jam-like, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 300. Meanwhile, bring cream to a simmer over medium heat. Split vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape seeds into cream, and add pod as well. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Beat together egg yolks and sugar. Add a small splash of warm cream, and beat to combine. Add the rest of the cream, and whisk together. Divide raspberry mixture between 6 small ramekins (or mason jars). Gently pour the cream on top. Put ramekins in a ovenproof baking dish, and add hot water to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 1 hour. Remove, and chill in fridge for at least 2 hours. Serve with raspberries and mint leaves for a garnish.

Makes 6 1/2-cup ramekins or mason jars

Thursday, September 20, 2012

banana coconut cream pie

I wanted banana pudding. I ended up with a coconut pie with a graham cracker crust, and I threw some bananas in for good measure. This is adapted from the Lost Coconut Custard Pie from Veganomicon. It's sweet, but light - not a heavy, egg-based custard, but a coconut milk and agar custard. Agar powder (or agar-agar) is a gelatin substitute used in Asian cooking, made from seaweed. Don't get grossed out, if you've ever eaten commercial ice cream, you've already eaten agar. You can find it at any Chinese grocery store, in small packets by the puddings and desserts.

graham cracker crust
From Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, makes one, regular-sized pie crust.

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp coconut oil
4 tbsp soy milk

Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, combine coconut, graham crumbs and sugar. Add coconut oil, and toss to combine. Add soy milk, one tablespoon at a time, stirring with your hands until mixture holds together when you give it a squeeze. Press the crumbs into a 9-inch pie plate, forming a crust. Bake 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool. 

Banana coconut cream pie
From Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, makes one delicious pie. The custard part of this recipe also makes a great pudding - make it without the pie crust, and pour into bowls, and let cool for 2 hours in the fridge. 

1 cup soy milk
2 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/2 tsp agar powder
1 (14-oz) can of coconut milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3/4 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
3 bananas
1 graham cracker crust (previous recipe)

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of soy milk and the cornstarch. Set aside. In a heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together the other 1/2 cup soy milk and agar powder. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Let it boil for 1 minute, then reduce heat to medium low. Give your soy-cornstarch mixture another whisk (the cornstarch will have settled), and pour it into the pot in a slow, steady stream, all the while whisking constantly. Add coconut milk, lemon juice and sugar, and cook over medium-low heat for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and add vanilla, salt and coconut. 

Slice two bananas, and arrange slices in the bottom of the cooled pie crust. Pour custard on top. Let pie cool at room temperature for 15 minutes, then transfer to fridge. Leave the pie for at least 2 hours to set. Before serving, slice the other banana, and arrange slices on top. I added some shaved chocolate for fun. 

scrumptious salads

Salads in Paris. Where to begin? For a vegetarian, the salad selections of Paris are almost as exciting as the pastries (I said almost). At home, I'm used to two options in a conventional restaurant - caesar and mediterranean. If it's an upscale restaurant, you might get lucky with an uninspired beet salad, or if it's a health-minded place, there might be some quinoa or cous-cous. But Parisians? They know how to turn a salad into a meal. There's goat cheeses on toasts, the salads have the perfect amount of dressing, the vegetables are fresh and perky, plates are large and overflowing, and there's not an unripe tomato in sight.

I came home from my vacation with a brick of blue cheese. Then I ate blue cheese salads for a week. I'm not complaining.

apple and blue cheese salad
This makes dressing about 3 cups of greens - a nice size for a main course salad for one. Increase if you're sharing.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp maple mustard
salt and pepper
salad greens of your choice
pickled peas
toasted walnuts
apple slices
blue cheese

In a largish bowl, combine oil, vinegar, syrup, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk together with a fork, and add your salad greens. Toss with your hands to coat the leaves. Top salad with peas, walnuts, apple slices and crumbled blue cheese.

*A note on the pickled peas. You probably don't have any, so just leave them out. But, if you feel like making them, I would definitely suggest it next spring! I used the recipe from Canning for a New Generation, a highly recommended canning book, but here's a similar recipe on Smitten Kitchen.  Popped out of their pods, they're lovely and crunchy, a nice combination of sweet pea flavour and tangy pickle. I also threw in some of the pickled shallots from the jar.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

food with friends

One of the most enjoyable parts of my vacation was food - but specifically, sharing it with other people. I live with my boyfriend in Toronto, and I love cooking with and for him, but it's nice to have a new, larger audience - and I certainly had that, whether it was dinner for a handful of friends, or a wedding of over a hundred (I helped cook some of the food at my friend's gorgeous country wedding).

I'm not a storyteller, I'm not a great performer, and I don't make new friends very easily. But I've discovered my favourite way of communicating with people is through food. I'll turn to one of my favourite culinary authors, Julia Child, to put it more eloquently: "Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal." There's nothing better than seeing the satisfaction in someone's eyes as they eat something you put time and effort into - something you carefully chopped, mixed together, roasted, stirred, tasted and seasoned.

(clockwise, from top left) I took a break from writing down recipes on my vacation, but here's some of the most delicious, from memory.

Tofu dip (tofu, tahini, herbs, nutritional yeast) and peach bellini (peach puree, champagne).
Rosemary lemonade with cherries from Not Without Salt.
Summer corn at a lovely farm house.
Pizza party at camp with this pizza dough.
Vegan waffles with Martha Stewart's Bourbon Poached Peaches.
My favourite hangover breakfast - oatmeal with caramelized bananas.

Here's another recipe I made on vacation, with some eggplants from my boyfriend's mom's garden. Serve it with raw vegetables, or this delicious flatbread recipe I found over on Smitten Kitchen. You already have the oven on - why not roast some eggplant and make some flatbread? Both recipes are super easy and fast.

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip
This dip would also make an awesome sandwich spread. Makes about 1 cup.

1 large eggplant, sliced in half, stabbed a few times with a fork
1 head of garlic, top 1/2 inch cut off
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 tbsp tomato paste (try buying paste in a tube, Italian style - it keeps for months in the fridge, much  
        better than those annoying tiny cans when you need a small amount)
squeeze of lemon

Preheat oven to 425. Arrange eggplant and garlic in a roasting tray. Rub with a few tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes, until eggplant and garlic is soft. Scoop out eggplant flesh into a food processor. Add garlic, by squeezing the cloves out of the papery skin. Add another splash of olive oil, tomato paste and lemon juice. Puree, taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve warm or cold.

Rosemary Flatbread
From this recipe on Smitten Kitchen.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
more salt, oil for brushing

Preheat the oven to 425. Combine flour, rosemary, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, and add water and oil. Stir together until dough forms. Knead 4 or 5 times in bowl, and divide dough into three pieces. Take out one piece, and leave others in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel.

Working on a large piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin. You want a very thin, 10-12 inch circle. And you really don't need a perfect circle - you're probably going to break up the flatbread to serve it, anyway. Transfer the parchment paper to a large baking sheet, and brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden and crisp, but not too browned. Remove from oven, set aside to cool, and continue with the other two balls of dough.

Keeps for a few days at room temperature, in a sealed container.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pastries and Paris

Paris - where to start? Every single thing I ate here was delicious. There's a cafe on every corner, with a long list of cheap beer and wine, and a selection of salads that would make any vegetable lover swoon. You can't walk more than a block without passing a drool-worthy window display of pastries. The corner stores are cramped, with aisles that wouldn't fit an overweight American tourist, but they offer chilled champagne, brie and olives.

But seriously, let's start with the most important part of my trip: the desserts. I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate chausson pomme while walking past the Eiffel Tower, shared an upside-down pineapple cake with a lit sparkler poking out of it late at night in the Latin Quarter, and conquered a mountain of whip cream with the best coffee ice cream hiding underneath on a sidewalk patio. Here's some of my other favourites:

(clockwise, from top left - click on the picture for a larger version)

Creme caramel, at a bistro near our apartment. Marzipan-filled pastry, from a patisserie our hosts recommended. Eclairs, washed down with 1664, overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame. Berthillion ice cream - banana and espresso - from the store on Ile Saint-Louis. Strawberry jam beignets on the hill at Sacre Coeur. So many Chausson pommes, a french apple turnover.    

I would leave you a recipe, but nothing I bake could ever live up to the quality and richness of these desserts. Something that comes close? This chocolate pudding I made a few months ago, from Bon Appetit. Meanwhile, I'm on a bit of a pastry break after this binge - can you see why? I ate my body weight in butter in only five days in this magical city.

Next up - something a little healthier, the salads of Paris.

Monday, September 17, 2012

cheesy egg bake + oatmeal brown sugar scones

I love breakfast - almost as much as this blog I just discovered - xo breakfast. Let me count the ways... maple syrup, fruit, oatmeal, pyjamas, mimosas, coffee, sunshine, radio, sleeping in, warm baked goods, old episodes of the colbert report, orange juice, waffles, jam, butter. I could go on. It's my favorite meal of the day, hands down.

cheesy egg bake
You can switch up the vegetables and cheese for whatever you have available. Serves two, increase for more people.

olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup mixed peppers, large dice
handful of kale, stemmed and torn into chunks
handful of mixed herbs, chopped (I used lemon thyme, parsley and oregano)
2 eggs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Heat a swirl of olive oil in a pan. Preheat the oven to 400. Cook onions and garlic in olive oil, until translucent. Add peppers and kale, and cook another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in chopped herbs. Turn off heat. Grease two large ramekins with olive oil (the 2-cup kind is best). Divide the vegetables between the two ramekins, and make an indentation for the egg. Crack the egg into the indent, and top with grated cheese. Bake for around 10 minutes, until the egg is cooked to your liking.

Alternately, you could make this in a cast iron frying pan - just cook the veg in the pan on the stovetop, make indentations for eggs, then transfer the whole thing to the oven. (I just love the individual ramekins for purely aesthetic reasons.)

oatmeal and brown sugar scones
From this post on xo breakfast. Makes 6 scones.

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c cup + 2 tbsp rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Use your fingertips to rub in the butter until the mixture looks like large crumbs. Stir in the milk. Turn the dough out onto the pan and pat it into a rectangle. Cut in six and spread them out about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.

I ate mine with Blueberry Ginger Jam from Food in Jars, and Ginger Butter (crystalized ginger + butter pulsed in the food processor).

cauliflower macaroni and cheese

Only four more days of summer! Here's a big dish of comfort food, made slightly healthier and lighter with the addition of cauliflower. It's inspired by these recipes - Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese over on Vegetarian Times, and Jamie Oliver's Macaroni and Cheese

cauliflower macaroni and cheese
I made this gluten-free and low lactose by using rice pasta, soy milk and gluten-free flour - but I couldn't get rid of the real cheese. Make a more decadent dish by using whole milk, white pasta and all purpose flour (and don't forget the butter). I made mine with only 2 cups of cheese, but you could increase this to 4 cups if you want a richer, cheesier dish. Or, you could go in the other direction and make it vegan by adding some grated vegan cheese. Makes 6-8 servings.

1 large head of cauliflower
2 cups dry macaroni (regular or rice pasta)
1 tsp kosher salt

1 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil or butter

2 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
2 tbsp flour (gluten free or all-purpose)
2 cups milk (whatever kind you like)
2 tsp mustard powder
salt and pepper
2 cups grated mozzarella (up to 4 cups for more cheesiness)
large handful of parsley, chopped

3 slices of bread (gluten-free or regular)
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil or butter

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Remove leaves from cauliflower, core and break into large pieces. Add cauliflower and macaroni to pot, and cook according to pasta package. When done, drain, and refresh under cold water. Set aside.

Meanwhile, saute shallots and garlic in oil. When soft, remove from pot, set aside, and heat pot again. Add 2 tbsp of butter or oil, let it get hot, then add flour. Stir for one minute, until flour is browned. Slowly stir in milk, whisking until smooth. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently. Add mustard powder, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring often for about 5 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Stir in grated cheese, add the cooked shallots and garlic and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400. Toast bread slices (unless already stale). In a food processor, combine bread (torn into chunks), rosemary, salt and pepper. Pulse, until it reaches a fine crumb. Set aside.

Now, the assembly: grease a large, ovenproof casserole dish with a splash of oil. Add pasta and cauliflower, and use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to break up the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Pour the cheese sauce and chopped parsley over, and stir to combine. Finally, sprinkle the rosemary crumbs evenly over the top, and then dot with butter or drizzle with oil. Cook for 10 minutes on the top rack of the oven, until the top is crisp and the pasta and cauliflower are hot. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

banana pancakes on a saturday morning

Before I get into all that delicious food I ate on vacation, here's what I've been enjoying about being home: my kitchen, which may not always be perfectly organized, but has the ingredients and equipment I need in the perfect place. I missed making breakfast in my pyjamas to CBC radio. I missed late night popcorn recipe inventions. I missed cooking in my favourite pots, on my perfect gas stove that almost never burns anything. I missed preparing food with my favourite cat buddies, Pipi and Luna.

Vacations are great, but it's always nice to come home. Here's yet another pancake recipe (and if it's not what you're looking for, try these: banana walnut pancakes, raspberry lemon pancakes or raspberry flax pancakes).

simple banana pancakes - makes around 10 3-inch pancakes

These are adapted from Jamie Oliver's 2012 Recipe Yearbook, a magazine special I picked up in England. I changed the all purpose flour to whole wheat pastry flour, and substituted half of the milk for yogurt, to add some tang (or maybe I had just run out of milk - but it tasted great).

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup yogurt (or just another 1/2 cup milk)
oil for cooking

2 bananas
2 tbsp butter
splash of maple syrup, plus more to serve

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add egg, milk and yogurt, and stir until just combined (some lumps are ok). Heat oil in pan, and cook pancakes in batches. Meanwhile, melt butter in another pan. Add sliced bananas and a splash of maple syrup, and saute until golden. Serve pancakes  with butter and more maple syrup.

vegan version: substitute 1/2 mashed banana for the egg, and use 1 cup soy milk. Cook the bananas in grapeseed or canola oil.

PS. I'm in the middle of redesigning the blog, so expect some changes. I loved the last layout, but it wan't the easiest to navigate or read.

PPS. You know it's a good day when you still haven't left bed, but you've gotten through brunch, four episodes of Seinfeld, AND posted a recipe!

Friday, September 7, 2012

returning home

I'm back! My vacation was indescribable, exceptional and unbelievable. It was FILLED with food: from late night bowls of mussels in the Latin quarter of Paris with my boyfriend, to cold glasses of peach cider overlooking the Waupoos bay with some of my favourite ladies, every day was filled with culinary delights that totally blew my mind. In the next few weeks I'll post some of my favourite meals, some of the best recipes I cooked with/for friends, and some drool-worthy food photos. Meanwhile...

Unpacking is always difficult, especially when accompanied by some post-vacation blues. It's bittersweet going through all the keepsakes, souvenirs and trip detritus that fills my backpacks - so many amazing memories. Still, every time I use a certain plate, drink from a glass, or wear a dress, I can think about the most amazing summer ever. Here are my favourite finds from Paris, London, Prince Edward County, and everywhere in between. But it's Monica-style - I like to stick to the open-air markets, the stores the locals recommend, and of course, thrift and antique stores.

(Clockwise, starting at top left)

1. Antique drinking glasses from Old Spitalfield's Market in London, and a few Penguin classics (the new designs in paperback!)  

2. Giraffe scarf, bird dress and anchor shirt, all from Brick Lane Market in London

3. Botany time! A bat skeleton, from Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, a butterfly from Prince Edward County, fossils from Sandbanks, and a fossilized anemone from Beachy Head, UK (looks like a gum-ball). I collected everything here myself.  

4. Antiquing in the county - orange Le Crueset pot, Crown canning jar, assorted dishes, and an apron (with 'Muriel' written inside).

(clockwise, starting at top left)

1. It's always nice to match. My camp friends and I love to buy matching outfits: Zebra dress, and two pairs of earrings (to celebrate that I finally got my ears pierced last year!)

2. Had to buy delicious food in Paris: Praline dark chocolate, raspberry vinegar, lemon sardines, lime and coconut tuna, olive oil, red wine, raspberry liquor, and a nautical theme skirt from a second-hand store. 

3. Souvenirs from my friend Katy's county wedding: pink striped robe (I'll wear it ALL the time), her wedding favour - vanilla peaches, extra wine I stole (no! got given), and a great antique tray she gave me - it's covered in Morpho Butterfly wings! 

4. Finally, my favourite pile of stuff: things I didn't buy. Photos from my action-sampler of all the people I love, a journal from camp, candles and sparklers leftover for next year's festivities, a copyright infringement myself and the other counsellors got served with by our campers, and a portrait drawn by a 6 year old (I'm going to start spelling my name Monyca).