Easter Edibles

Friends! As you may have gathered from last week’s series of late posts (I did finally share that pasta, by the way), things here have been a little busy as of late. After spending the week living out of a backpack and eating takeout, in the name of helping bring this project to life, by Friday I was properly frazzled. And so I made grand plans for the weekend. Plans to spend time catching up on the things I’d been neglecting, like cooking and sleeping and paying my taxes. 

cookies.jpgBut no. I did not do those things. Instead, I joined friends for a long breakfast at a bustling farmers’ market. I spent an afternoon learning, from a friend-slash-amazing-baker, how to transform sugar cookies into little works of edible art.

I joined my sister in hiding plastic eggs – stuffed with fridge magnets and little socks – for my nephew’s first ever easter egg hunt. Then I stuck around, for egg-dying, kite-flying, playground-exploring and barbecuing in the evening sun.  

eggs.jpgWhich is to say that I accomplished nothing that I set out to. But of course, I wouldn’t change a thing. Although, after yesterday’s breakfast of bread and lunch of carrot sticks, it may be time to start cooking again. And then there are those taxes…

Vegetarian Puttanesca + A Pasta Secret

For a long time, I thought I didn’t like pasta. Which didn’t make much sense to me because: 1) I was on very good terms with other carbohydrates; and, 2) I couldn’t attribute the weight I gained during my two brief stints in Italy to the gelato alone. 

But still, when I’d try my hand at making pasta at home – and I mean simply making a sauce to top store-bought noodles – it was just…OK


I used good ingredients. I managed a reasonable al dente. I wasn’t shy with the salt in the pasta water or the sauce. So what was the problem?

Somehow, I’d got it in my head that pasta was simply a vehicle for sauce, and so I’d been drowning my noodles. The last spiral would be eaten, and a pool of sauce would remain. 

But think of classic carb-sauce pairings, like toast and jam, fries and ketchup, bagels and cream cheese.  Even the most liberal condiment lovers probably get more of the carbohydrate per bite than they do the sauce. And that’s essential. Because too much sauce becomes overwhelmingly sweet or salty or rich.


And pasta, I’ve come to see, is the same way. The noodles need to be visible, clothed in just a thin coating of sauce – a spring jacket rather than a parka. Seeing the yellow of the noodles peak through the sauce is a good thing. 

But for the final dish to taste like a proper dish, and not simply a fistful of boiled pasta rubbed with a bit of tomato, the sauce needs to have impact.


Enter: Puttanesca. For such a simple, speedy sauce, it’s immensely flavourful. Because each of the ingredients – most of which are flavourings, really – adds something significant and unique. Olive oil provides richness. Olives and capers add saltiness and bite. Chilies pack heat, soy sauce provides the umami lost by the omission of traditional anchovies (this is a vegetarian version, after all). Vinegar lightens. Tomatoes and basil add freshness. Cheese is just generally a good idea. 

And so, to those of you who love pasta, I can finally say: I get it, I’m with you! And to those who don’t, I ask: Have you tried the puttanesca?

Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 6-8

1/4 cup of olive oil 
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp hot chili pepper
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, blended until smooth
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (red wine will work too)
1 tbsp soy sauce (sounds weird, yes, but it does a nice job of replacing the salty, umaminess of the anchovies you usually find in puttanesca) 
3/4 cup kalamata olives, pits removed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup of capers, juice drained
3/4 tsp table salt
1 lb (454 g) of dry spaghetti
3/4 cup of fresh basil, sliced
Grated parmesan cheese 

Put the oil, garlic and chilies in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden (about 3-5 minutes). Add to the pot the blended tomatoes (be careful – when the tomatoes hit the oil, the oil may splatter a bit), vinegar, soy sauce, olives, capers and salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens a bit.  

step-1.jpgWhile the sauce is simmering, cook your spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Do your best to time things so that the pasta is finishing up at the same time as your sauce. 

Take the sauce off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning (adding more chilies, salt, or vinegar) as you see fit. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta in the tasty puttanesca. Serve up the pasta, topping it off with a generous amount of basil and parmesan. 


Coming Up Tomorrow...

Get ready to get your pasta on.


Toutons: Newfoundland-style fried buns

Imagine for a moment a creation made from bread dough and cooked like a pancake, that puffs up like a doughnut, has the crispy-chewy texture of a pretzel and – to come full circle – tastes comfortingly like a fresh loaf of bread. 


You’ve just dreamed up the touton (that’s tau-tin, delivered in your best maritime accent). And, depending on how you feel about carbohydrates, you can thank or blame the good people of Newfoundland for bringing it to life. 


Complicated though their classification may be, toutons are simple things in their construction. After its first rise, a standard batch of bread dough is divided up and shaped into little rounds, which are shallow-fried in a mix of butter and oil (or, more traditionally, pork fat) until golden. Top with a pat of butter and a good drizzle of molasses and – behold! – toutons. Add a few breakfast sides and a gale, and you’ll have yourself a fine east coast morning.


Now, if molasses isn’t your thing, not to worry – toutons can still be yours for the enjoying. See, because toutons are made from bread dough, the end results, like bread, can be dressed up with sweet or savoury toppings with equal success; a quick spin online will turn up toutons in the guise of pancakes, serving as the base for eggs Benedict, and split and used as the bookends of a sandwich. I enjoyed mine with cinnamon-sugar, while my sister was more taken by the touton sprinkled with garlic powder and salt. When it comes to pancake-doughnut-pretzel-buns, anything goes. 

Adapted from www.food.com and www.nlrockrecipes.com, with many thanks to Peter for introducing me to the idea
Makes 8 tasty toutons

1.5 tsp white sugar
1/4 cup of warm water
3 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 cup of milk (1% or greater)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup of cold water
3/4 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp white sugar
2-3 cups of all-purpose flour
~1/2 cup olive or canola oil, for cooking
For serving: molasses, cinnamon sugar, butter, breakfasty things like poached eggs and tomatoes, etc.! 


1. In a large bowl, dissolve the 1.5 tsp of white sugar in the warm water, then stir in the yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is bubbly and weird looking.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high until it’s steaming and small bubbles form around the edges of the saucepan. Stir in the butter until it melts, then stir in the cold water, salt and 1/2 tsp white sugar. Let sit until it’s only warm (not hot!) to the touch, then stir it into the bubbly yeast mixture.


3. With a wooden spoon, stir 1 cup of flour into the liquids until the mixture is smooth. Slowly mix in more flour until you’ve made a moist dough that no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Be careful not to add so much flour that the dough becomes stiff. 

4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured flat surface (or in the same bowl, like I do), adding more flour as needed to keep it from getting sticky, for 10 minutes. 


5. Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and place it somewhere warm and draft-free (I popped mine in the oven, with the heat off but the oven light on). Let it rise until it has doubled in size – should take about an hour. 


6. Gently squash down the puffy dough with your hands to pop the bigger air bubbles. Divide the dough into eight, equal-sized balls. Flatten the balls into circular patties, about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches across. 

7. Preheat the oven to 200°F.

8. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan with 1/2 inch of cooking oil (or a mix of oil and butter). Set the pan over medium-high heat and heat the oil until it reaches ~275°F (the oil should just be beginning to sputter). 

9. Using a spatula or tongs, carefully transfer as many rounds of dough into the pan as will comfortably fit. Fry the rounds until the bottoms are golden (2-4 minutes), then flip and fry the other sides until golden (1-3 minutes), lowering the heat as necessary to keep the toutons from burning and the oil from getting super-hot. Place the fried rounds on an ungreased baking tray and let sit in the warm oven for 10 minutes to ensure they’re cooked through. Repeat with the remaining rounds of dough. 

10. Serve the cooked rounds hot from the oven, with molasses, butter, cinnamon sugar, garlic powder, or any other tasty thing you can think of. Like most types of fried dough, toutons are tastiest when hot and fresh. But if you can’t make your way through eight fried buns, simply store the extras like you would bread and toast them back to deliciousness. 


3 Ingredients You Should Keep in the Freezer

At this point in your life, you’ve probably mastered the basics of storing food. Fresh milk needs to be refrigerated. Frozen peas need to go in the freezer. That sort of thing. 

But, as it turns out, the conventional way of stashing your groceries isn’t always the easiest. Or the cheapest. Or even the most convenient. So today, I want to share some handy tips I picked up from clever cooks on how to store food, better. And, having just arrived in chilly Canada from a much warmer North Carolina, it seems only appropriate to focus on the great storer of food that is the freezer.

Read on to find out how stashing three typically unfrozen ingredients in the freezer will save you a trip to the store, transform a task from tough to easy, and cut down on food waste. 

Not bad, freezer, not bad. 


WHY YOU SHOULD FREEZE THEM: Like most fresh veggies, fresh chilies have a relatively short lifespan on the counter or in the fridge. But, wouldn’t you know, the little things freeze well (thanks for the tip, Wendy!). So save yourself from having to run to the store every time you need a chili by starting a frozen chili collection. 

WHAT TO DO: Wash and thoroughly dry your chilies. Toss them in a bag. Freeze them. Ta-da! You can prep them straight out of the freezer, though I find they’re easiest to cut if they’ve sat at room temperature for a minute or so. 

TIPS: Chilies that have a high water content – like juicy jalapeños – will be slightly softer after a run in the freezer relative to when they’re fresh. So if it’s essential that your pepper has some crunch, it’s best to keep them out of the freezer. But if you’ll be cooking the things or using them in small quantities, you’re fine to dip into your frozen stash. 


WHY YOU SHOULD FREEZE IT: When it’s fresh, ginger root is a pain to work with – its fibrousness makes it tough to chop or grate. When it’s frozen, the fibrousness seems to disappear, making prep work a cinch.  

WHAT TO DO: Wash and dry your ginger root, then pop it in the freezer (you can put it in a container here, though I don’t bother). Once the ginger is frozen through, it’s ready to be used as per your recipe. Be sure to wield your knife/grater/peeler carefully here, as the frozen ginger will have a good amount of resistance to it. 

TIPS: Two things: 1) Peeling ginger is optional – the thin skin is edible and not noticeable when grated; and, 2) My preferred tool of choice for grating ginger is a sturdy microplaner, like this one


WHY YOU SHOULD FREEZE IT: Recipes rarely call for a full can of tomato paste, which means that when you cook with it, you’re almost always stuck with more than you need. Save yourself from having to design the next few meals around the extra paste (or from throwing it out) by storing it in the freezer. When frozen, it’s easy to work with – a sharp knife slices through it without a problem. And since tomato paste is typically added to hot sauces or stocks, you’ll most often be able to toss it into your dish straight from the freezer. 

WHAT TO DO: In a freezer-safe container, spread your tomato paste in a thin (~1/2-inch) layer that doesn’t quite touch the container’s walls. Now freeze it! Once the paste is frozen, remove it from the container, set it on a cutting board, and use a sharp knife to carefully slice off as much as you need (you’ll have to approximate). Refreeze the extras!

Alternatively, for more precise serving sizes, freeze individual tablespoons of the stuff on a parchment-lined baking tray. Once the little pods are frozen through, drop them in a freezer-safe container or bag. 

Defrost the tomato paste only if you need to (if you have to mix it into something that isn’t hot, for example). In most cases though, working with it while it’s still frozen should be fine! 


Have any clever food storage tips of your own? Be sure to leave a comment so that other readers can benefit from your wise ways!


Easy Aloo Gobi

When you think of Prince Edward Island, you probably don’t think of curry. Which is wise of you, because PEI isn’t really a curry kind of place. 

Unless you’ve been hanging out with me and my parents in Little Pond on the Island’s east end, in which case you’re probably well and truly sick of all of the cumin, garlic, ginger and onions we’ve been frying up over the past week. But, since I know you haven’t been hanging out with us (I was there, after all), I’ll elaborate. 

We tried new things, like this delicious coconut collard green concoction, and a tasty Indian take on scrambled eggs. And we revisited old favourites too, like chana masala, mulligatawny, and aloo gobi.  


My sister and I have been making this aloo gobi since we first watched Bend It Like Beckham and discovered that the movie ends not just with credits but also with a demonstration of how to make a tasty potato (or ‘aloo’) and cauliflower (‘gobi’) dish. 

The original recipe is a bit vague, not specifying quantities for things like ginger and garlic (presumably you’re meant to add as little or as much as you’d like) and giving very loose cooking times. 

And so, over the years, we’ve tweaked it. But just a bit, because it’s delicious as is, and simple too. The greatest challenge comes in stirring the raw chunks of potato and cauliflower around in the tomatoey sauce (which can truly be a pain if you use a small pot, so don’t!). Otherwise, it’s just chop, fry, simmer, eat.

I’m painfully short on food photos this week – we made the aloo gobi on my last night on the Island, so there was visiting and packing and cat snuggling to do. I’ll get some more photos up just as soon as I make another batch, but like I said, it’s easy, so don’t wait until then to give it a try!

Aloo Gobi
From food.com, where it was sourced from the movie Bend it Like Beckham (where I first came across it) 
Serves 6-8 as a side 


1/4 cup of canola oil or ghee
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium jalapeño, finely chopped (if you want to keep it mild, get rid of the membranes and seeds before chopping)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger 
3 tbsp fresh cilantro stalks, finely chopped
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
16 oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 medium head of cauliflower, washed and cut into florets (about 5 cups worth)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup water
2 tsp garam masala
To serve: Cooked rice & fresh cilantro leaves 


Heat the oil in a large (I emphasize: LARGE) pot over medium heat until hot. Carefully add the onions and cumin seeds and sautee, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add to the pot the jalapeño, garlic, ginger and cilantro stalks and sautee for just a minute, taking care that nothing burns. Stir in the turmeric and salt and fry for 30 seconds more, again making sure that nothing burns. Decrease the heat to low here if need be!

Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir just until the onions and things are evenly dispersed through the tomatoes. 

Add the cauliflower, potatoes and water and stir until the veggies are evenly coated with the sauce. Bring to a boil (once the sauce bubbles, you’re there), then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender. Stir in the garam masala. 

Taste the sauce, adjust the seasoning, and serve with rice and fresh cilantro. 

Update from...


Well, Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in North Carolina anymore.    


More from the land of snow cakes and icicle carrots soon!

Vegan Chocolate Pie

If you’ve ever spent an exciting afternoon reading recipe reviews online, you’ll know that ingredient substituting is a popular pastime. In the name of dietary restrictions, health improvements, pantry limitations and preferences, cooks tinker. 

Duo.jpgSome of these substitutions are minor: a spoonful of coconut oil steps in for a pat of butter. Other times, recipes are so transformed that the final ingredients list is a distant relative of the original. Crackers are used in place of apples to, say, create an abominable version of pie. Which, incidentally, isn’t far off from what I’m about to do.

Because today’s chocolate pie is made with, and please be patient with me here, tofu. Yes, it sounds weird. And yes, it feels a little weird to make too. And no, it’s not healthy per se, though it skips the butter, eggs and cream that are called for in a more traditional chocolate pie. 


So, why bother? 

First, it’s simple. The crust and the filling are made almost entirely in a blender or food processor. But a lot of good, tofu-free desserts are easy to put together, so let me share a few more of its virtues. 


Second, it can accommodate just about any dietary restriction in the book (dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free and so on), making it easy for you to accommodate your dietarily-restricted pals. And that’s awfully nice.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the case of pie made with tofu: the taste. As a regular tinkerer, I consider a fair result to be one that makes up for any loss in taste with whatever’s gained by the substitution (convenience, healthfulness, friendship, etc.). A good result bumps the tastiness quotient to be on par with the original. And then, on occasion, there’s alchemy: An end result that’s so delicious a new creation that you’ll make alongside, or instead of, the original.  


There, in the class of alchemy, lies the chocolate pie. It’s cool, smooth and intensely chocolatey. An unsuspecting eater would never know that it contains tofu, though that’s what’s responsible for its impossible lusciousness. Good chocolate is the key to a good result, since it supplies the bulk of the flavour. But feel free to tinker (of course) and incorporate other flavours as you see fit. Coffee and citrus wouldn’t be amiss. But the tofu, well, that’s non-negotiable. 

Vegan Chocolate Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie
Adapted from food52.com and foodnetwork.com, and introduced to me by Jess

Note: The silken tofu that I found came in 3/4 lb packets. If you don’t want to have to buy two packets to make up the full pound called for in the recipe, you can scale all of the filling ingredients down by 25% (making for 3/4 lb tofu, 1.5 cups of chocolate chips, 0.75-1.5 tbsp maple syrup, 3 tbsp almond milk, 1.5 tsp vanilla extract). It’ll result in a slightly less full pie, but not detrimentally so! 


2 loosely-packed cups of chocolate wafer cookies (or 12 single graham cracker squares)
1 tsp brown sugar
1 large pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp coconut oil, melted

2 cups (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 lb of extra-firm silken tofu
1-2 tbsp maple syrup (to taste)
1/4 cup almond milk, cold espresso or orange liqueur
2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions: Crust

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 

2. In a food processor or blender, pulse the cookies, sugar and salt until you’re left with fine crumbs. Drizzle in the coconut oil and pulse again until the mixture is evenly moistened. 

3. Dump the cookie mess into a 9-inch pie plate. With your fingers or the back of a spoon, firmly press the crumbs so that they evenly cover the base and walls of the pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until it looks dry in the centre. Remove the crust from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Now turn off your oven – you’re done with it!


Directions: Filling & Assembly

1. Melt your chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a small pot of simmering water, until completely smooth. Let cool. 

2. In a food processor or blender (make sure it’s crumb-free!), pulse together the melted chocolate, tofu, maple syrup, almond milk (or whatever you’re using) and vanilla extract until smooth.

3. Pour into the cooled crust and let chill for 2.5-3 hours, or until the filling is firm (if you’re low on patience, pop it in the freezer for an hour instead). Slice and serve! 


Coming Up: Pie!

Friends! I made this tasty chocolate pie to share with you (and, obviously, to eat). But alas, it’s late, and I haven’t yet found the words to do it justice. 


I’m leaving North Carolina at the end of the week, which means I’ll be spending the next few days finding my things, packing said things, and heading on as many little adventures as I can pack in between the packing of things. But pie’s important too, so expect to see a recipe soon!


In the mean time, to tide you over, here are a few photos from a trip that a friend and I took last week to Raleigh’s arboretum. They’re not quite as tasty as chocolate on chocolate, but they sure do smell delightful. More soon!


An Unsung Baking Hero + Cocoa Brownies

Poor cocoa powder. Of the three main offspring (or rather, products) of the cocoa bean, it’s the obvious ugly duckling. 


First, there’s cocoa butter, that rich, luxurious stuff we associate with the texture and fattiness of chocolate. It’s loved. Adored. Eating it isn’t enough, so we slather it on our hair and our bodies. We are one with cocoa butter. 

Then, there’s cocoa mass – a roughly equal mix of cocoa butter and cocoa powder. We don’t think much about cocoa mass at all. But it’s often the first ingredient in good chocolate, so if we knew about it, we’d probably love it too. 

And finally, cocoa powder. Dry, dusty and bitter, the thought of eating it by itself can make us shudder. 


But cocoa powder, too, should be loved. Because cocoa powder cares for you, in its own inanimate way. It delivers more good stuff than its siblings – minerals and flavonoids and other mysterious, healthful things – without all of the saturated fat. It contains a happy hit of caffeine. It’s cheap. 

And it’s accessible. Cocoa butter and cocoa mass are hard to track down, typically showing up on commercial shelves as chocolate, where they’ve been mixed with other stuff. Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is everywhere, often in its pure form or processed simply with an alkalizing agent that makes for a less acidic, darker powder (“Dutch process”, it’s called, after the Dutch fellow who came up with the idea). So when you use cocoa powder, unlike chocolate, you get more control over the flavours that make it into your final dish.   


Today, in celebration of this under-loved ingredient: my favourite brownie recipe, a cocoa-heavy concoction that calls for elemental sorts of ingredients like unsalted butter, eggs, vanilla and pecans. In fitting with the simplicity kick, it’s a one-bowl affair that comes together quickly and bakes up to produce a brownie at its best: rich, dense, chewy and intensely chocolatey, even though there’s no real chocolate in sight. Make them, for the love of cocoa. 

Best Cocoa Brownies
Adapted from epicurious.com, where it was source from Alice Medrich’s BitterSweet
Makes ~25 brownies

Notes: Dutch process cocoa (the darker stuff) and natural cocoa (the lighter stuff) will both do the trick here, the former making for a dark, mellow brownie and the latter for a lighter, more fruity and flavourful brownie. If you like your brownies a little salty, sprinkle the unbaked brownies with a bit of flaky salt, or swap the 1/4 tsp of table salt with a slightly heaping 1/4 tsp of flaky salt. 


1/2 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch-ish pieces
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large, cold eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup pecan pieces (optional but delicious)


Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x8 square pan with parchment paper or tinfoil (I’m currently without an 8x8 pan, so I used two 8x4ish loaf pans).  

Put the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and table salt in a large, heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a large skillet of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have melted together into a grainy mush that’s hot to the touch and there are no bits of butter visible. (Alternatively, you can melt the ingredients together in the microwave, stirring every minute or two, until everything comes together.)

Let the grainy chocolate mess cool until it’s warm but no longer hot to the touch. With a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla extract, then stir in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until the egg is fully incorporated.  


Stir in the flour until it’s no longer visible, then give the mixture another 40 strong stirs. Add the pecan pieces, if using, and stir just until they’re dispersed through the batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan and gently spread it until it’s level and reaches the edges of the pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-35 minutes (it’s a big range, I know!), or until a knife inserted into the centre of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Let the brownies cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the brownies from the pan and cut into 25 little squares (remember to peel off the foil/parchment!). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for ultimate chewiness.