Tomorrow: Apples Galore!

Stay tuned, friends!

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Veggie Bowls with Four-ingredient Sesame Sauce

A few weeks ago, I found myself staring down a sparse fridge. It was nearing dinnertime and my willingness to expend energy on cooking was low. In this situation, some people would order in or go to the grocery store. But since I only dream of doing the former (only in times of real emergency, I tell myself) and tend not to do the latter without giving myself a minimum of 12 hours warning (too spontaneous), I had no choice but to make do.   

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So I rewound to when my sister whipped up a delicious dinner with minimal ingredients and effort. The secret: A sauce made simply by blitzing together garlic, water, miso and tahini (aka sesame paste) in a food processor and pouring the stuff over cooked veggies and quinoa. 

Now, I should say here that I’m entirely for culinary improvisation. But when a recipe is so simple, if I found myself missing both a key ingredient (miso) and a key piece of equipment (the food processor), I would normally be inclined to skip it.  

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But on this day, I forged ahead, sans miso and processor. I stirred water and grated garlic into tahini and called it dinner.

And it was delicious. Savoury, smooth, salty, and sharp from the fresh garlic, it’s exactly the sort of sauce you want to smother your veggies in. I ate it again the next night, even though the requisite 12 hours had passed and groceries had been picked up. 

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It pops up on the menu regularly now, sometimes with added chile or garlic, and sometimes overtop noodles or rice with different combinations of veggies and proteins.

Feel free to tweak it to the contents of your fridge and your tastes. And don’t feel the need to save it for when your fridge is running on empty (though, of course, it’ll work just fine then too). 



Sesame Sauce (with tips on turning it into a veggie bowl)
Adaped from Post Punk Kitchen, via my sister
Serves 2 and scales easily

Note: Feel free to experiment with the sauce, stirring in ingredients like grated fresh ginger, soy, chile or miso (as originally called for). Mix in ~1/2 tsp of the spices and aromatics, and 2 tbsp of the miso, taste and adjust from there. 

Ingredients (sauce)
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled (you’ll need about 2 tsp in total)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp tahini (aka sesame paste)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste

Ingredients (bowls)
1.5 - 2 cups of hot, cooked quinoa or rice, or cold soba noodles
3 - 4 cups of hot, cooked vegetables (I like steamed broccoli, cauliflower and peas, but fried or roasted veggies would be work too) or some combination of veggies and protein (like cooked beans, fried tofu, or boiled/poached eggs)
Fresh herbs to taste (I like cilantro and thai basil)

Directions

1. Grate your garlic into a small bowl. Add in the remaining sauce ingredients – tahini, water and salt – and stir until the consistency is smooth and the sauce has lightened in colour. Taste and adjust ingredients as necessary (note that the garlic flavour will intensify quickly as the sauce sits, so give it a few minutes before you add more). Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, if you prefer a thinner sauce. 

2. Divide your grains, veggies, proteins and herbs evenly between two bowls. Pour the sauce evenly over the two bowls. It may seem like a lot of sauce, but don’t be shy here. Now dig in! 

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The Most Unusual Pizza You'll Ever Meet

What is pizza?

Search the e-archives and you’ll run into etymological suggestions that link modern pizza to words like pluck, press, pita, pastry and pie. But pita is hardly pizza and, as the research shows, people here in the States will say ‘mud’ before they’ll say ‘pizza’ when they’re asked to list off types of pie. So onward you go, to message boards about the origins of pizza which, as message boards so often do, leave you more lost than you were when you arrived.  

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So, again, what is pizza? I don’t know anymore. And so I can’t tell you why the star of today’s post – pizza ebraica (or Jewish pizza) – shares a name with the savoury bread you and I think of when we hear the word pizza. There’s no familial resemblance. Their common ingredients include flour and flour alone. They’re both a sort of baked dough, yes, and you’ll find them in Italy. But the similarities seem to end there.  

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Better to think of pizza ebraica as an unleavened (as in, free of yeast and other rising agents), Italian take on fruitcake, made with ingredients like Marsala wine and pine nuts. It’s crispy – nearly burnt – on the outside, the raisins puffed up and blackened, while the inside is soft and boozy, part creamy and part biscuity, and dense with fruit and nuts.

Like its namesake, pizza ebraica too has a long and uncertain history (you can read two rather different accounts here and here), so I can’t tell you anything certain about where it came from. But today, you’ll find it (where I did) in Rome, served by the slab at the famous il Boccione bakery in the Jewish Ghetto. And, if you’re lucky, they might even let you buy a piece or two

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In the mean time, make it yourself. Don’t skip the wine, and make sure the fruit is plentiful. Bake it until it’s burnt on the outside but still a bit gooey in the centre, then dig in and come to understand why this knobby little pizza has stood the test of time.



Pizza Ebraica
Recipe Adapted from Saveur
Serves 8-16, depending on how big you cut your pieces

Note: If you’re not keen on candied fruit, try swapping it for dried fruit that you’ve rehydrated with a bit of freshly boiled water. If my memory serves me correctly though, the Roman version comes complete with mysterious green cherries!

Ingredients

1 cup marsala wine
2/3 cup dark raisins
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg white, beaten until frothy
3/4 cup chopped raw almonds
1 cup roughly chopped candied or dried fruit (depending on how fruity you like your bread)
1/4 cup raw pine nuts

Directions

1. Heat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put your wine and raisins in a small bowl and let sit for 30 minutes, or until raisins have plumped slightly.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and butter with an electric mixer (or a wooden spoon and vigour) until the mixture is sandy. Mix in the frothy egg white. 

4. Add to the sandy mixture the almonds, fruit, pine nuts, and raisins (with the wine they’re soaking in). Mix until the dough comes together and the nuts and fruit are distributed throughout.

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5. Form the dough into a 6x8(ish) inch rectangle that’s roughly 1.5 inches high (I formed my dough into little 2x2 buns first for easy separability, but wouldn’t bother next time).

6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are starting to turn dark brown, and the interior of the dough is still moist (if your oven runs hot, you may want to check them at 25-30 minutes).

7. Let it cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before cutting into generously sized logs or squares. 

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From NYC: Avocado Sandwiches, Two Ways (with Doritos)

Rewind time by a week or so, and you’d most likely find me and my travelling companion somewhere in midtown New York City, on our way to the first of several bakeries we’d stop at that day. 

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And tasty though the baking in the city may be, when you’ve structured your trip around a Google map directing you to bagels, blintzes, knishes, ramen and ciabatta, eventually you grow weary. You show signs of scurvy. You start thinking it might be time to make a change. 

And then the strangers at the table next to you lean over to ask if anyone is joining your table, or are the two of you going to eat all four of those doughnuts yourself, and you’re certain you’re heading down a terrible path. 

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So we got out of midtown and went north, to Hamilton Heights, where the sidewalk vegetable stands were plentiful and the people we were staying with were generous cooks. 

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On New Years Day, we found them gathered in the kitchen, mashing fresh lemon juice and bitey feta into a plateful of bright green avocados. They spread the stuff – “smash” – atop grilled bread and served it alongside poached eggs and raw tomatoes. Relief! It was simple, fresh, delicious, and green – a perfect start on the path to building fruits and vegetables back into our diet. 

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And then: Dinner. We headed to the pub just a stone’s throw from our host’s apartment, where my travelling companion went again for avocado atop grilled bread. Only this time, the bread also came topped with a hefty serving of cheese and, I dare say, crushed Doritos, before being fried in a lot of butter (hold the bacon). Not so virtuous after all, but it was everything you could hope for in a grilled avocado-cheese-and-Doritos sandwich, and then some. 

If you like avocado, be sure to try both – they do a tasty avocado justice. But seek out the smallest bag of Doritos you can find or, like us, you may be too easily tempted to keep making the latter again and again until supplies run out. Heavens. Good luck, friends!



Avocado Smash

Recipe courtesy of the lovely Australian ladies in Hamilton Heights
Serves 1 and scales up easily

Ingredients

Half a ripe avocado, pit and peel removed
1 tbsp of mild feta
1-2 tsp of fresh lemon juice (start with the smaller amount and add more as desired)
Salt & pepper
1-2 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds (optional)
1 slice of freshly toasted grainy bread
Serve with: A poached egg, fresh tomato, other breakfasty goodness

Directions

In a plate or a bowl, mash together the avocado, feta, lemon juice, and a good pinch of both salt and pepper, until the avocado is in small, bite-sized chunks and the feta is distributed throughout. Taste, and stir in 1 tbsp of sunflower seeds, along with more salt, pepper and lemon as you see fit. Spread the smash atop your toast and sprinkle with more sunflower seeds. Eat right away! 
 

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Grilled Cheese, Guacamole and Dorito Sandwich
Inspired by the Loaded Grilled Cheese at Harlem Public
Serves 1

Ingredients
2 tbsp salted butter, divided
2 slices of crusty white bread, cut 1-1.5 inches thick
Swiss or white cheddar cheese, cut 1/2 cm thick – just enough to cover your piece of bread with a single layer of cheese
~1/3 cup guacamole – enough to cover your bread with a ~1cm layer of guacamole
Nacho cheese doritos, slightly crushed – enough to cover your piece of bread with two layers of chips

Directions
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan over medium heat.

Place the cheese on top of you bread (unless you want to overload on cheese, use less than I did in the photos!), and carefully spread your guacamole on top of your cheese. When the butter is melted, carefully fry the open-faced sandwich, bread-side to the pan, over medium-low heat until the cheese begins to melt. If it looks like your bread is browning too quickly, turn the heat to low.

When the cheese is melty, remove the sandwich from the pan nand top the guacamole with the Doritos and the second slice of bread (this’ll help retain a bit of the crunch in your Doritos – important stuff, of course). Melt the remaining tbsp of butter in the frying pan and place the sandwich, ungrilled side down, back in the pan. Fry until the bread is golden.

Serve while it’s hot!  
 

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Coming Up: Avocados Upon Avocados

Tune in tomorrow for two rather different takes on an avocado sandwich, inspired by my travels in New York City! And yes, those are definitely Doritos. Oh dear.

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Update from New York City

Greetings from New York City!   

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I’m in the city for a holiday, spending most of my time either seeing the sights or sleeping in to recover from seeing the sights. There hasn’t been much time left for cooking, so I’ll have to wait until I’m back in North Carolina later in the week to share a recipe with you. In the mean time, here are a few photos from my adventures. 

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I’ve spent a lot of time inside museums over the past few days, though I’ve managed to sneak in a few stops at bakeries for tasty treats like potato-filled knish, cinnamon and chocolate rugelach, meringue-topped lemon tarts and no-knead ciabatta.  

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Then it’s back to the museum I go, to walk off (some of) the pastry and learn about the secret lives of rocks and birds. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, I say!

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I have a few days left in the city and a flexible schedule, so if you have any recommendations, drop me a line. And see you later in the week for a long overdue new recipe!

Festive Cookies for Snow-free Climes

Back in Edmonton, I’d get festive. I’d spend a weekend baking treats for friends, and an evening designing greeting cards featuring exuberant penguins. The Nutcracker Suite would be on repeat and I’d probably watch A Charlie Brown Christmas at least twice. I’d stop complaining about the weather for a few weeks. There were parties, drinks with friends, Skype calls with family. 

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Here in North Carolina, it’s been a little different. I’ve been doing the normal things – the wrapping, the cards, watering down my eggnog with milk as I was raised to do.

But I haven’t yet managed to find the Christmas spirit.  

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Maybe it’s the weather. December days that register in the plus twenties celsius are disorienting for someone who bids adieu to warmth every September. Or maybe it’s that I’m distracted, too focused on navigating a new city, on a new bicycle (instead of my plain old feet). Or maybe it’s the monstrous Carolinian crickets that seem to follow me around, either to terrorize me or to befriend me, I’m not yet sure.

And of course, I’m away from my family and friends. So there’s that too. 

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Today, I made these little cookies, melt-in-your-mouth snowballs flecked with toasted pecans and rolled in cinnamon-scented powdered sugar – unapologetically bad for you, as holiday baking so often is. While they were in the oven, and as music from Home Alone played in the background, a parcel arrived from my parents, packed with presents and stocking stuffers. Not long after, we went out for a pint of holiday-spiced beer with a friend. And when we got home, my sister and I chatted over Skype about our plans for the break. And then we ate some more cookies. 

Things are looking up. Now all I need to do is sort out how to transport a Christmas tree home on my bicycle.



Pecan Snowballs/Mexican Wedding Cookies
Makes 4-6 dozen 
Adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious.com

Note: I know 4-6 dozen is quite a range. Hear me out. The original recipe specified that it made four dozen, but I followed the instructions closely, using two teaspoons of dough per cookie, and made out with about 70+ teeny cookies. In short: If you’re precise, you’ll make lots. If you’re a little more generous in your sizing, you’ll probably get closer to the 4 dozen specified.

Ingredients
1 cup of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup of icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup of cooled toasted pecans, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions
1. In a large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy (an electric mixer, or spoon and some vigour, will do the trick).
2. Add in the smaller quantity of icing sugar and the vanilla extract, and beat again until light and fluffy. 
3. Add the flour, and stir until it’s almost fully combined into the butter mixture.
4. Add the pecans and stir again until thoroughly incorporated through the dough.

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5. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. 
6. While the dough is chilling, whisk together the larger quantity of icing sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl/pie plate/other dish.
7. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
8. Remove one ball of dough from the fridge. With your hands, roll the dough into 2-teaspoon-sized balls, spacing them about 1 inch apart on the sheet. 
9. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown.
10. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then roll a few times in the powdered sugar mixture (I found a fork worked well for tossing and removing the cookies from their sugar bath). 
11. Place coated cookies on a cooling rack to cool completely. Once they’re cool, you can give them another toss in the powdered sugar, if you please! 

step-2.jpg12. Repeat steps 8-11 with the remaining ball of dough. And now you have a zillion teeny cookies!

Uncertainty About Artichokes

Friends! I spent the weekend – not the whole weekend, but some of it at least – wondering what to do with these two lovely artichokes gifted to us by my North Carolinian host’s friend. I took the photos below earlier this morning, so clearly my weekend wasn’t particularly productive, culinarily speaking.

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The plan is to offer up these happy little chokes to Google’s search engine later in the day, but if you have any thoughts, tips, beloved recipes or vague-related artichokey ideas, I’d love to hear them! 

Colombian(ish) Hot Chocolate with Cheese

When you’re in a new place, grocery shopping becomes an adventure.

There are new aisles to navigate, new foods to discover. Mythical ingredients that you’ve only heard are there, on the shelves, yours for the buying. Food prices, so humdrum before you left home, become a fair topic of conversation – a source of elation or outrage – amongst you and your fellow adventure-shoppers. The ‘international’ aisle takes you to a different sliver of the world.  

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Four days into my stay in the States, and the local grocery store hasn’t disappointed. I’ve encountered eight varieties of eggnog, purchased a can of beans that pigeonholes its contents as “a garnish for salads”, and wandered down an aisle dedicated to the odd combination of crackers, kids foods and bathroom products. 

I also found queso fresco. 

Queso fresco, or “fresh cheese”, has been on my radar for years, after a friend told me that, in her native Colombia, people sometimes put cubes of the stuff in their morning cup of hot chocolate. And, like savourily little marshmallows, the cheese melts, gooey and delicious, waiting to be snatched up with a spoon. But the stores I go to at home don’t stock it, and so the drink has been out of my reach. 

Needless to say, this weekend I bought the cheese. 

ingredients.jpgShortly thereafter, I realized that: 1) I knew almost nothing else about Colombian hot chocolate; and, after having Googled some recipes, 2) I needed to go back to the grocery store. 

But the necessary Colombian drinking chocolate – bars of sweetened or unsweetened, slightly crumbly chocolate – were nowhere to be found. I left the store with disks of crumbly Mexican drinking chocolate and worries of offending Mexicans and Colombians alike. But I forged ahead, following instructions for the Colombian drink using the Mexican chocolate (and cheese, as it turns out). And then I consumed it. 

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By itself the cheese is quite salty, but when you eat it after having taking a swig of the sweet hot chocolate, it mellows and rounds the drink out. It’s tasty, rich, and unlike anything I’ve had. 

Unfortunately, I have no idea whether it’s at all close to the real deal. My guess is that the Mexican chocolate is a bit too sweet, and that you’d be better off substituting a bar of super-dark chocolate and sweetening it to taste. But really, I don’t know. 

And I realize now that having access to the right(ish) ingredients and a recipe isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you need to adventure further than a grocery store, or at least have a knowing friend with you when you go. 



Colombian(ish) Hot Chocolate with Cheese
Serves 1 and scales easily

Update 12/02/2013: My friend from Colombia who inspired the post has weighed in! She says that Colombian chocolate used for hot chocolate is less sweet and more rich than your standard Canadian/American chocolate. If you can track it down, she recommends the Colombian brands, “Chocolate Diana”, “Chocolate Sol” or “Chocolate Quesada”. In a pinch, she says Mexican chocolate will do the trick, though it’s not quite the same as Colombian. 

Note: If you can find Colombian chocolate, use it! Try 1-1.5 oz per serving. If you can’t find queso fresco, try another mild, melty, fresh cheese. Fresh mozzarella should do the trick.

Ingredients
1 cup of milk or water
1-1.5 oz of dark chocolate (chopped or not, either’s fine)
sweetener to taste (panela, aka unrefined cane sugar, is traditional, but other sweeteners will work too)
3-4 small cubes of queso fresco or other fresh cheese (see note above)

Directions
In a small pot, heat your milk/water over medium heat until it’s nearly simmering. Add in the chocolate and stir until it has melted completely, taking care not to let the milk boil. Taste and sweeten to your liking. Turn off the heat.

Carefully but quickly whisk the hot chocolate until it’s developed a substantial amount of foam. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender or a regular blender to do this. If you go with the latter, blend the hot chocolate on low for 5-10 seconds, or until it’s frothy. Make sure to leave a space for the hot air to escape the blender, or the lid will shoot off mid-blend! Taking the removeable piece out of the lid and covering the hole loosely with a dish towel should do the trick.)

Drop your cheese into your cup, pour in the frothy hot chocolate, grab a spoon, and serve immediately! 

 

Travel Food

Friends! In a couple of days, I’ll be leaving the snowy city of Edmonton behind for a few-months’ stay in Durham, North Carolina. And as usual, I’m nowhere near ready to go. 

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I’d like to be able to say that I’m one of those balanced people who makes time to eat well even when things get crazy. But after downing a breakfast of dry pita, a handful of almonds and an orange (on a plate, at least), followed by a lunch of assorted steamed vegetables, I can make no such claims. Or share recipes with you. I’m sorry!

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That being said, I have managed to dedicate a sliver of time to thinking about the food I’ll miss when I’m outside of Canada. So on Saturday morning, I ducked over to the Strathcona farmers’ market to grab a few of my favourites that’ll be out of reach once I’m in the States: Gully Valley lettuce and tomatoes, fluffy Happy Camel pitas, and a gooey cinnamon bun from the cafe (that last one didn’t stick around long enough to make the photos).

I’ve also given a few moments of thought to the treats I want to bring with me. 

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Dig through my barely-packed suitcase and you’ll find, rolled up in socks, an array of condiments and teas: A little can of harissa from Italy that I’ve been saving for a special occasion, a tin of my favourite milk oolong tea leaves – a birthday gift from lovely friends, maple-apple syrup procured by my sister on a recent trip to BC, a box of much-loved seasonal candy cane-flavoured tea, a jar of the world’s tastiest mustard from Edmonton’s Italian Centre, and a jar of Vegemite. I’ve also thrown in a bag of Canadian sea salt, though I’m thinking that taking a baggie full of white crystals through American customs may be more trouble than it’s worth.  

In a week’s time, when I’ve settled into Durham, I’ll get back to sharing recipes. In the mean time, let me know what you’d be taking if you were leaving your hometown for a few months and whether you think silly bag of salt is worth risking.