Monday, July 30, 2007

My First Real Crust

I love tarts, quiches, and basically anything that comes in a crust or something resembling a pie crusts (except most fruit pies, but even then I will happily eat the crust and pick at the fruit). Why - because I am a crust fiend. Being a crust fiend, I have always been scared of making a pie crust and how disastrously it might turn out. Of course I wanted it to be perfect the first time. (I don't set high expectations for myself!) After looking at some beautiful tarts (more tarts) and quiches on Smitten Kitchen, I was convinced that I had to at least try to make a crust. Armed with newfound bravery and a recipe from Rebar, I made my first pie crust.

I used a recipe for a whole wheat pastry, though it's about a 1 to 3 ratio for whole wheat flour to white flour. I was hoping for an all whole wheat crust but apparently you can't really do that, though I did find a recipe for a 100% whole wheat pizza crust at Checkered Napkins that uses whole wheat pastry flour, so perhaps I could use that as inspiration to make a 100% whole wheat pie crust. I used all butter, instead of the half butter half shortening called for. I was astounded at how easy the pie crust was to make and ecstatic to see it turn out looking and tasting okay. The preamble to the recipe says that it's foolproof, and I'd have to agree. It has you roll the dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap (which doesn't make the environmentally friendly person in me happy, but I hope to become more skilled where I won't need to do this sort of thing). You then lift off the top piece of plastic wrap, and flip the dough upside down into the pie crust. As it turns out, I didn't roll the dough into a perfect circle so when I was folding the extra bits in, it was a bit uneven. But it all worked out in the end so I can't really complain.

There are two tart recipes in the wonderful Rebar cookbook: apple and spinach tart, and squash & smoked cheddar tart. I went for the apple and spinach tart first, and I have plans to try out the other one later. Though I might use sweet potato instead of squash, but anyway. The tart was quite tasty, despite the long wait time since the tart wouldn't set. I wasn't sure how the apples on the top would turn out - a tasty addition or a strange apples gone brown exposed to air thing. They ended up being a tasty addition and added something different to a savoury tart. I look forward to using this recipe as a base to come up with my own tart filling combinations!

Oh and I'm trying something different with the photos for this post. Mostly because the original lighting of them was not so great, so I'm trying to use the magic of photoshop to make them look better. The pictures are, I don't even know how to describe them - brighter, more yellow and overexposed? Is this a good thing, I'm not sure. One day I will learn the skill of making poorly lighted photos look awesome (I hope). Or just get one of those expensive cameras with the flash that I can point up the ceiling to diffuse the light and all that fancy stuff.

Apple & Spinach Tart
(adapted from Rebar)

serves 8

1 pre-baked whole wheat tart shell
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped leeks
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
1 bunch spinach, stemmed, washed and wilted
3 eggs
1 cup light cream*
1 cup grated aged cheddar**
3 apples, a combination of red & green
1 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and saute until the leeks are soft. Set aside to cool. Wilt the spinach, squeeze out excess water and chop. Next, lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Add cream, salt and pepper and whisk together.

2. To assemble the tart, evenly distribute grated aged white cheddar over the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Follow with the leeks and the spinach. Pour the egg mixture over top.

3. Quarter and core the apples. Thinly slice each quarter into 8 thin wedges. Starting at the outer edge of the tart, overlap apple slices, skin sides facing out, in a circle around the edge. Spiral the overlapping slices towards the center of the tart to cover the entire surface. Beat the egg white in a small bowl and brush over the apples. Place the tart on a baking tray and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes***, or until the egg is set and the crust has browned. Let the tart rest for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan. Cut into wedges and serve.

*I used what I had, which was 1/2 cup whipped cream and 1/2 cup 1% milk.
**The recipe calls for crumbled blue cheese but I really am not at the point of liking blue cheese yet. And extremely love aged white cheddar.
***I ended up baking it for 45-55 minutes because it didn't seem to be setting. Maybe because I used half 1% milk?

Note: I used an 8" pie shell and it only fit 2 apples and not quite all of the egg/cream mixture.

Whole Wheat Pastry
(adapted from Rebar)

makes one 10" tart

1 cup unbleached flour
6 tbsp whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
7 tbsp chilled unsalted butter
4 tbsp ice water

1. Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir together. Add the chilled butter. Using our fingertips, mix gingerly until the fat and flour combine to form a coarse meal. Sprinkle in the ice water and mix until the dough just holds together. Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or until ready to use.

2. Wipe counter with a lightly damp cloth. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap over the moistened surface to cover an area slightly larger than the intended crust size. Smooth the plastic into place. Position the ball of dough in the center of the plastic and press with your palm to flatten a circle 6" across. Cover the dough with a second sheet of plastic wrap.

3. Roll out the dough in strokes radiating outwards from the center, with even pressure on the rolling pin, to a size slightly larger than the diameter of the tart pan. Gently lift the top sheet of plastic off the dough, and have a tart pan ready by your side. Lift the crust by the bottom sheet and flip the dough upside down, centered onto the pan. The dough should be overlapping all around the sides of the pan.

4. Carefully separate the plastic from the dough and gently press it against the sides. Using your thumb, push the dough all along the edge where the side meets the bottom. Fold the overhang inwards, leaving a double crust along the side and a rounded edge on top. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork to prevent the crust from puffing up when pre-baking. Bake in the center of a pre-heated 350F oven for 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Earl Grey Tea Shortbread

Shortbread has always been one of my favourite kind of cookies. My grandma's shortbread that we all fight over, to be specific. I think I was probably initimidated by making shortbread for this reason. How could I possibly make shortbread good enough to compare?

A couple of Christmases ago, I tried this earl grey cookie recipe for the first time, not realizing it was basically a shortbread cookie (good thing!) It was such a perfect little cookie that I knew I'd be making it again, though it did take me a year and a half. My coworker was leaving, and I had always talked about these earl grey cookies, so I had to make her some before she was gone. I decided to split the batter in two and do half a batch of earl grey orange cookies and the other half matcha. Not too long ago I attempted another matcha shortbread recipe but wasn't happy with the results, so I was hoping to have more luck here. They did taste okay but weren't as good as the earl grey cookies, and the matcha dough was extremely crumbly. So crumbly that I had trouble cutting off pieces from the log to bake them (and I didn't have this problem with the earl grey portion). You can see on the matcha cookies the pieces that broke off as I was slicing the dough. It's possible I just don't like matcha shortbread, but I don't want to believe that so I'll keep trying!

Anyway, the earl grey cookies were just as good as I had remembered. Strong earl grey (bergamot) flavour, hint of orange (using orange zest), and a wonderfully delicate shortbread texture. The only problem I have with these cookies is rolling the dough into two logs. I seem to find it impossible to make the roll cylindrical and instead it's some lopsided mishapen thing that resembles something between a circle and a square. But that gives the cookies more character, right?

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
(Adapted from the special issue Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies 2005)

makes about 8 dozen supposedly, but I found it to make a few dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves (from about 4 bags)*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1. In a small bowl, whisk flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl.

2. Put butter, sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Divide dough in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; shape into logs. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow the log and force out air. Freeze until firm, about an hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.

5. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through,until edges are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

*You can grind the tea leaves in a small food processor, spice grinder, blender, or do as I did and use a magic bullet!
**Or just lay them carefully in your freezer on something long and flat.

Note: To make matcha shortbread, substitute matcha powder for Earl Grey tea and omit orange zest.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Roasted Vegetable Pasticcio

This post commemorates my first time participating in a food blog event!! Most exciting. The event is called Presto Pasta Nights. Every Friday the host (Ruth at Once Upon A Feast) posts up all the pasta photos that have been sent to her during the week.

This pasta is similar to the Linguine with Balsamic-Glazed Roasted Vegetables I made not too long ago (and is actually on the opposite page from it in the cookbook). Similar in the sense that they both have roasted vegetables, pasta, and no real sauce (and are both from the never disappointing Rebar cookbook). I think it's a nice simple dish, good for a summer meal. It's an easy one to half or double, whatever you need. You can use whatever veggies or cheese you have on hand. As the preamble to the recipe says, this is the kind of recipe where you just add a bunch of pasta, cheese and herbs together then bake it with a nice crust. While I did enjoy this pasta dish, for me it needs more flavour since there's no sauce. Next time I might add more lemon zest (and maybe lemon juice), more herbs, more garlic, and use a cheese with a stronger flavour (it calls for mozzarella and feta, so I might try feta with aged white cheddar).

Also, I'm going to tell you something that will most likely make me look very stupid. Try not to be too shocked. I never knew why you're supposed to add salt to water when you're boiling pasta. It was just what my mom did, so I did it too. I'd heard of people adding oil (apparently so the pasta won't stick together), and maybe I thought salt did the same thing. I don't think I thought too much about it actually. Anyway, I was watching Michael Smith on Chef at Home and he finally made it all clear and blaringly obvious to me: you salt pasta water so that you season the pasta.

Roasted Vegetable Pasticcio
(Adapted from the Rebar cookbook)

Serves 6-8

20 oz (600 g) dry rigatoni pasta
1 medium red onion
1 medium sweet potato
2 yellow or red peppers
2 small zucchini
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp chopped oregano, basil or mint
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp capers (optional)
3 cups grated mozzarella
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

1. Cook pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water until al dente. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400F. Chop red onion, sweet potato and peppers into 1/2" square pieces. Cut zucchini into 1/2" thick half-moon slices. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with olive oil, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Spread them out on two lightly oiled baking trays and roast until vegetables are soft and golden (about 15 minutes). Remove the vegetables and reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

3. In a large bowl, toss together the cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, lemon zest, capers, 2 cups mozzarella, feta cheese and all but 2 tbsp of the chopped herbs. Spoon the entire mixture into a 9"x13" glass baking dish.

4. Make the topping by combining fresh breadcrumbs with the remaining cup of grated cheese, reserved chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and spread over the casserole. Bake uncovered at 350F until bubbly and golden on top (40 minutes).

*Original recipe calls for eggplant, but I just am not willing to try and like eggplant right now so I always use sweet potato instead.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Jerk Tofu

In my continued quest for tofu marinades, I tried out jerk tofu. If you're looking for a tofu marinade that's different and possibly something you haven't tasted before, definitely try out Isa's recipe. I've never tried anything with jerk seasonings so I had no idea what to expect, and nothing to compare it against. Which isn't very useful to those of you wondering how accurate it is, sorry. But for those of you who are feeling adventurous, it's still good right? (The few times I've seen places serving jerk marinated things, they've been meat. What's with that.) Anyway, the marinade combines all sorts of crazy things together like cinnamon, cayenne, thyme, maple syrup, soy sauce, ginger, onion and lime (among many other things). I have this idea in my head that things seasoned with jerk spices/marinades are supposed to be burnt. I don't know why or where that came from, but the burnt looking parts of the tofu didn't taste burnt. (Here's a picture of someone else's jerk tofu that may have been from the same recipe I used, only baked instead of pan fried.)

My apologies for this lackluster post. I'm not feeling very inspired right now. My fridge seems to be broken and I fear for the lives of all the food living in it. Well I think it's past that point now, so I'm just avoiding eating any of it until the fridge is fixed tomorrow (and new food is bought). I did use a melon baller for the first time today on a watermelon. That was insanely fun. I need my own melon baller now, and a giant watermelon so I can scoop and scoop large bowlfuls of perfect little watermelon balls.

Jerk Tofu
(Adapted from theppk by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

1lb extra firm tofu, pressed for at least an hour*

For the marinade:
1/2 large white onion, roughly choppped
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
juice of 2 limes
zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1. Puree all ingredients for the marinade.

2. Slice the pressed tofu into long triangles like this:
Slice into eigths width-wise
Slice each eigth in half into a long triangle

3. Marinade tofu in a bowl for at least an hour covered, flipping slices a couple of times.

4. Prepare the skillet with a thin coat of olive oil and turn heat to medium high. When pan is hot, lay tofu in a single layer. Cook for 8 minutes on each side.

*To press tofu, wrap in paper towels or a clean dish towel and press under the weight of a heavy object, such as a skillet with a heavy book in it. Turn over after 1/2 hour. This will get the water out and allow the tofu to soak up more of the marinade.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Battle of the Healthy Muffins

I think most of us are used to cake like muffins, and I definitely love those ones but I'm on a search for healthy and tasty muffin recipes. (I seem to be on a search for a lot of things recently (perfect red sauce, best peanut butter cookies, really good tofu marinades). Why the healthy muffin search? It's a quick, easy, hopefully filling, and potentially healthy snack. So far there are three contenders: honey banana, oatmeal raisin, and pumpkin banana.

Honey Banana | Oatmeal Raisin | Pumpkin Banana

The honey banana were the first ones that I made and they were okay. Well they tasted good for a healthy muffin, but for a muffin in general just okay. Plus the tops of the muffins became all wet the next day, which is a true muffin pet peeve of mine. I wonder if I had used all oil instead of half oil and half applesauce if the tops would've been wet. I'm guessing they would've been because of all the bananas. I also added some nuts to the honey banana muffins. The oatmeal raisin ones were kind of bland, and drier than the honey banana. I wouldn't bother making these again but I like the idea of an oatmeal raisin muffin. The description said "oatmeal raisin cookie meets muffin", so I was really excited about tasting them. Unfortunately they do not taste as awesome as an oatmeal cookie.

Then we have the muffin that currently reigns supreme (yes I think that's stuck in my head from Iron Chef), the superb pumpkin banana muffins! I doubt I would have thought of putting pumpkin and banana together but it worked well. You don't taste the pumpkin too much (for those people that are pumpkin haters) - it's more about the pumpkin pie spices. These muffins are moist and full of flavour, and the top of the muffin doesn't get wet! There is however 2 cups of sugar in them which doesn't seem healthy to me, but it does make 30 muffins. You're getting about 3.2 teaspoons of sugar in each muffin (that actually does seem high, but I don't know). There's no added fat (oil, butter), and lots of good things (whole wheat flour, oat bran, walnuts). The one thing I forgot to do was add some ground flax to the batter.

For now I will hang on to the honey banana muffin recipe, but if I find better healthy muffins I wouldn't be sad to discard it. The pumpkin banana muffin recipe I will keep and make again. I'll try to add less sugar next time and see how they turn out. And I will keep searching for other healthy muffin recipes so I can have at least a few solid ones in my repertoire.

Healthy Pumpkin Banana Muffins
(Adapted from Recipezaar)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup oat bran
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup applesauce
15 ounces canned pumpkin
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Grease or line muffin tins with paper liners.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk flours, bran, oats, baking powder, spices, baking soda and salt.
4. Combine remaining ingredients (except nuts) in a large mixing bowl; beat until smooth.
5. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
6. Beat just until combined.
7. Spoon into prepared pans or tins (fill cups until just about full).
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean.
9. Remove muffins from pan and cool on wire rack as soon as they come out of the oven.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Easy, Yummy, Tasty, Healthy!

This meal is easy, delicious, and healthy. You really don't need a recipe to make it, though of course I used one. I did however modify the recipe a bit, because you know I'm so daring. The original recipe is from the Rebar cookbook, that I love. I love the balsamic vinegar used to glaze the vegetables after roasting them. And I think that the roasted garlic cloves really add something wonderful to this dish. I know it's such a simple dish, but I had to post about it because it's so good and so easy. A perfect meal during the week when you don't want to think about what to make, or a great way to use up all the random vegetables, nuts and cheese you have at the end of the week.

Linguine with Balsamic-Glazed Roasted Vegetables
(adapted from the Rebar cookbook)

Serves 2 (but easily doubled or quadrupled or whatever you want)

1 zucchini
1 bell pepper
1 red onion
1 garlic bulb
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
1/2 tsp red chile flakes (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp freeze dried basil OR 1/2 cup chopped basil OR 2 tsp dried basil*
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp pine nuts (optional)
1/2 lb (225g) whole wheat linguine
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese**

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Heat a large pot of water on the stove to boil the pasta.

2. Slice zucchini into 1/8" thick half-moon slices. Halve, seed and cut pepper into 3/4" dice. Slice thick strips of red onion. Separate, peel and slice the garlic cloves in half lengthwise.*** Place all of the vegetables in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet or a big casserole dish and roast in the oven until golden and tender (30-40 minutes, or not as long if you like). Stir the vegetables halfway through.

3. When the vegetables are just about cooked, start to cook the pasta. Salt he pasta water and cook the linguine until al dente. Strain and toss with a light coat of olive oil (optional, unless the pasta is done way before the vegetables, then you'd want to add the oil so the noodles become a big clump).

4. When the vegetables are ready, remove them from the oven and add the basil and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with more salt, cracked pepper, or balsamic. Toss vegetables with the pasta and serve with freshly grated cheese and pine nuts.

*I love basil and this is what the recipe calls for, but you can of course use whatever herbs you like (rosemary, parsley, thyme, etc).
**Or whatever other kind of cheese you like. A hard cheese would probably be best. Omit the cheese for a vegan meal.
***These are just suggestions from the cookbook about how to cut the vegetables but you can just go crazy and cut them however you like.

Madeleines to the Rescue

I told my mom that I'd bake something for her to take to work on one of those "bring food from your culture" days. I didn't try to bake anything from any particular culture, but instead was really excited to try out David Lebovitz's recipe for pineapple coconut cookies (which are basically macaroons). I adore David's food blog yet had never tried out one of his recipes. This one was from Ripe for Dessert. You heat the pineapple in a frying pan (something I've never done for cookies or anything else) until all the liquid evaporates, then add it to dried coconut flakes, sugar, vanilla and egg whites. I realized just now as I was writing this post why these cookies/macaroons totally didn't turn out - I forgot to add the sugar! Looking back over the recipe I now see that sugar is listed in the ingredients but not in the written instructions. The mystery of the disastrous cookies has been solved! I couldn't understand how the amazing David could have a recipe that disappointed. They were impossible to form into balls and tasted very weird without the sugar so I ended up throwing them all away. So you're welcome, for telling you what will happen if you forget to add sugar to your macaroons. I must try making these again because I love the use of pineapple in the cookies.

Anyway, I couldn't give my mom these cookies to take to work, so I quickly made up a batch of honey earl grey madeleines. Madeleines are basically little cakes, though for some reason some people call them cookies. When my friend and I first made madeleines we tried out a few different recipes to see which one was best. This was my original favourite, using a honey madeleine recipe and adding earl grey (an idea I got from Chez Pim if I remember correctly). I love bergamot and I love tea so adding earl grey to things (like shortbread, which I will post about soon) always makes me happy. I've also tried white chocolate, white chocolate blueberry, chocolate, lemon, and chocolate coconut madeleines. It's really easy to modify the recipe to add in whatever flavour you love most.

You can see by the tunnels that I mixed the batter too zealously this time.

Madeleines seem to have become my fall back baked treat. It's best if you refrigerate the batter for at least 30 minutes before baking them, which is the most annoying part about making them. Well it's only annoying if you wanted to bake them right away and then realized you have to wait. (One recipe has you refrigerate it for three hours - how can one wait that long!) But they're still easy to put together and quick to bake. If you don't put the batter in the fridge first, they'll still taste good but probably won't have the nice crown/hump. One very positive thing about madeleines is that you don't need to remember to take the butter out of the fridge beforehand (which I often forget) since you melt the butter. You need a madeleine tin to make these (they also have mini madeleine tins if that's your thing). And oh my, I didn't know they had silicone madeleine pans! You have to grease madeleine tins really well because of all the grooves, so a silicone pan would be especially appreciated. Madeleines are best when they're warm fresh out of the oven when they're a little bit crisp around the edges, in my opinion anyway.

Honey Earl Grey Madeleines
(adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

Makes 12

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus melted butter for molds
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon earl grey, finely ground (can be from a tea bag)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon packed light-brown sugar

1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, being sure to not let the butter brown. Remove from heat, and stir in honey, vanilla extract and earl grey tea. Let stand until room temperature. In a small bowl, whisk together, flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula mix the eggs and sugars until combined. Fold in flour mixture, until just combined. Add the cooled butter mixture, and continue to fold until combined. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in center. Brush madeleine molds with melted butter; set aside.

4. Fill each mold three-quarters full, using spoons, a pastry bag or an ice cream scoop. Do not overfill the molds. Bake until puffed, and the edges are golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack until pan is just cool enough to handle. Invert onto wire rack and serve warm, if possible.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My Search for a Delicious Red Sauce Begins

I've always always preferred white sauce to red sauce. Probably because red sauce usually has a bit of a tang or sourness to me, and white sauce is creamy and delicious. I do really like rose sauces though, which mix the two together for the best of both sauces. (Maybe I could add a touch of healthy buttermilk to the red sauce to give it a bit of creaminess, instead of heavy cream.) Anyway, I was recently reading in an Everyday Food magazine about how cooked tomatoes are especially good for you (I love them raw, but cooked in any way not so much). Cooked tomatoes have the antioxidant lycopene, which helps to protect against cancers among other things. Apparently you can also get this health benefit through ketchup (though I don't really recommend it being your primary source)!

I thought about how white sauces from a jar compared to homemade ones taste. They're really not even comparable actually. So I figured that the same might be true for red sauces. I tried out Giada de Laurentiis's basic marinara sauce, with a few slight modifications. The sauce tasted fine (and better with the addition of Parmesan and pine nuts), but I definitely don't love it yet. I think the key for me to enjoying red sauces is to put lots of other finely chopped vegetables in the sauce. Next time I'm going to try roasting the vegetables before adding them to the sauce, and perhaps adding lots of garlic. I also need to figure out which herb mix I like best - this time I used thyme, basil, oregano and rosemary.

Knowing that red sauce is healthy for me (and certainly a lot healthier than a white sauce) actually helps me to enjoy red sauces more. In that sense it's all in my head but in a good way. I will try making red sauce again (in smaller batches) to see if I can find something I truly love. I will keep using Giada's recipe as my guide, modifying things as I figure out what tastes best to me.

Marinara Sauce
(Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis)

Makes about 2 quarts (8 cups);
1 quart will serve 4 over pasta as a first course

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

General note: I added thyme, basil, oregano and rosemary. Can't remember how much of each. Fresh herbs would be amazing I'm sure, but I used dried.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Matcha (Green Tea) Cupcakes

I used to really hate sharing the kitchen with someone else. What if they didn't measure exactly right? What if they over mixed the batter? What if they didn't add things in the order the recipe specified?? (Can you tell that I'm a bit of a perfectionist/control freak.) Thankfully I've gotten over this and learned to be more laid back about cooking/baking with someone else. Now I love baking with my friend because I'm a lot more willing to take risks, not follow recipes exactly, and to come up with new creative ideas (since I've taken the pressure off myself for everything to turn out perfectly). When I bake by myself, I still stick fairly closely to the recipe if not completely. (Though since baking with her, I have started to modify baking recipes more than I ever did on my own. Like using half whole wheat flour in a recipe that calls for all purpose, gasp!) Every once in a while we get together and have a baking day. This time we decided it would be a matcha (green tea powder) baking day!

Mmm perfectly rounded little tops.

It started out with her wanting to make these little Totoros, which we didn't end up making. (Totoro is a well known character from a Japanese animated film called My Neighbor Totoro.) We decided to go with chockylit's recipe for matcha cupcakes (and PS you should check out this amazingly beautiful and creative cupcake blog). Our brainstorming about cupcakes came up with (are you ready for this because it's a long title) matcha cupcakes with a coconut brown sugar crust and a coconut buttercream icing topped with a matcha shortbread star and sprinkled with shredded coconut. Whew.

Look at the way the butter soaked up the sides of the liners!

The actual cupcake turned out incredibly well. They were tasty with just the right amount of matcha, and it was a nice dense yet soft cake. I love dense (but still moist) cakes, so I was really happy with these. The crust definitely needs to be improved upon but it still tasted good. I put too much butter and sugar I think, because it wasn't very firm. (Maybe just butter and coconut next time with a tiny bit of sugar? I'll have to do some crust research.)

I insanely love how batters look. I really don't know why but batters are just so beautiful to me.

As for the icing, I really dislike the very buttery buttercream icings. The ones where it feels like you're just eating a stick of butter. Because of this, I was not eager to make a buttercream icing but we didn't know what to do to get a nice smooth thick icing that didn't have butter or cream cheese. I don't have much experience with icings so I was feeling kind of lost. We found a basic icing recipe that could be modified to be made into a buttercream icing (so we were going to make half regular and half buttercream). I ended up not liking the consistency of the regular icing (especially after adding too much milk, making the icing too liquidy and unable to hold any sort of form other than gloop). I started adding butter, hoping that would help stiffen up the icing and fix everything (which it didn't really). We also mixed in shredded coconut with the icing, making it look kind of lumpy and strange. Overall the icing was a bit of a mess but it tasted okay (though my friend thought I put way too much vanilla, but how can you have too much vanilla?? Mmm. Unless you're making peanut butter cookies.)

Then there were the matcha shortbread stars that we topped the cupcakes with. We used a recipe from a Martha Stewart cookie magazine from a few years ago. This recipe was not as successful as the cupcakes. I thought there was too much matcha powder which didn't balance well with the shortbread. But they looked cute atop the cupcakes so all was not lost!

Just for fun, my friend wanted to make faux matcha madeleines (since we love making all kinds of madeleines - well I should say that she got me into baking madeleines.) We put the matcha shortbread into a madeleine tin and I was really surprised that it came out perfectly, and deceptively looking just like a madeleine.

I'm not going to post a recipe for the crust or the icing because neither were real winners. I'm sure if you want to make these you can find another icing that would work better than the one I attempted. Though they're also yummy without icing.

Green Tea or "Matcha" Cupcakes
(Adapted from chocklyit's recipe at Cupcake Bakeshop)
1/2 sheet pan or 24 cupcakes
350 degree oven

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons matcha

1. Prepare a 12 cup muffin pan with muffin liners or with butter.
2. Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds.
3. Add sugar. Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
4. Add eggs/egg yolks one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.
5. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add to batter and mix to combine.
6. Mix matcha in with the milk. Add to the batter and mix until combine.
7. Pour into prepared muffin pan and smooth flat.
8. Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Italian Tofu

I seem to be on a search for good tofu marinades, so thought I'd try out the Italian marinade from Vegan with a Vengeance. (I want to try the pumpkin-seed crusted tofu from this cookbook next!) The marinade was really easy to put together and I thought it was interesting that there was 1/2 a cup of white wine in it. As it turns out, even though I marinated the tofu for 3 hours (2 hours longer than the 1 hour recommended time) it didn't taste like much after I baked it. I think if I changed the quantities of the ingredients (upped everything and put less wine) it would have a lot more flavour. The wine didn't seem to add much to the taste of the marinated tofu, but instead diluted the flavours of the other ingredients.

I really liked the cooking method of baking it on both sides then putting it under the broiler for a few minutes. Very easy and I liked the texture. As suggested by Isa, I didn't throw out the marinade but instead poured it over the yellow peppers as I was sauteeing them. With the bit of marinade that was leftover after that, we poured it over the baked tofu for more flavour. The marinade itself did taste good but it just didn't infuse very well into the tofu. I also love the suggestions for how to cut tofu (into long triangles or short triangles) on the page next to the recipe.

I've never seen an Italian inspired tofu marinade and I loved the idea. I will definitely play around with the ingredients to try and get the Italian flavour to come through in the tofu. If you want to try this recipe, I suggest modifying the amounts (maybe lots of herbs, more lemon, more garlic and more vinegar?).

Italian Tofu
(Adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 cup white cooking wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed
A big pinch each dried basil, marjoram, and thyme**

Prepare the marinade by combining all ingredients in a wide shallow bowl.

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut the tofu widthwise into eight equal pieces. Marinate for an hour or overnight (if you have good foresight and planning), flipping after 30 minutes. Place the tofu on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Flip over and bake another 10 minutes. Place in the broiler for about 3 more minutes for extra chewiness.

And as Isa said, use the extra marinade for something instead of throwing it away. Use it sautee some veggies like I did to eat with your tofu!

**I used dried basil, freeze dried basil and fresh basil, as well as some dried marjoram and thyme. (I went a little basil crazy. Never too much basil!)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Feel Like You Are A Scone Master

I've made scones before but I've never made scones like this. I can't remember where I was reading about how Ina Garten (the barefoot contessa) has really amazing cake and baked goods recipes, but it inspired me to try out her scones. (So did the Amateur Gourmet's post about her scones.) The scones that I've made before were from a recipe of my Scottish grandma's, so they're quite different from the flaky scones of Ina Garten's.

One thing Ina says is really important is to make sure that the butter is cold and that it doesn't completely incorporate into the dough. She says that you want little pieces of butter, because when the butter cooks, the water in the butter evaporates and makes the scones flaky. After reading this I was really scared that I would overmix the dough (which is why I think I'm scared of pie crusts). I didn't have much faith that my scones would be light and flaky, and I had many fears that the pieces of butter were too tiny. But really how are you supposed to mix the butter in so its the size of peas? I had some pieces that were the size of grapes and some that were almost completely incorporated. So I just tried to break up the bigger pieces. I guess you have to really dice the butter beforehand into the size you almost want them to be.

I never knew until I saw the Amateur Gourmet's post about scones that this is how you get triangle shaped scones.

In any case, I was so insanely happy with how these scones turned out. So beautiful, so wonderfully moist, light and flaky. I was ecstatic to see how flaky the scones looked from the side. These scones are the best that I've ever had - and I'm not trying to be conceited or anything, if you follow this recipe yours will be the best ever too. It's just an awesome recipe. That being said, I didn't eat many of the scones because there was so much cream, eggs and butter in them. And just knowing what was in them it was hard to want to eat too many. There's also a glaze that's supposed to go on top but I didn't make it because I thought it would be too much (especially considering the fact that there's already sugar sprinkled on top of the scones, which makes for a nice crunchy top). I'll be making this recipe again but probably saving it for special occasions.

The recipe makes about 16 scones, which was way more than I expected. I would try halving this recipe next time - the dough was almost too much to fit and mix properly in my mixer. I used chopped dried apricots instead of the called for dried cranberries. I'm not sure why some of the apricots burned especially since I've seen apricot scones before and the apricots weren't burned. I'm not sure what I did wrong - maybe I needed to coat them in something? But the apricots on the bottom of the scone got burnt too. Other than that, the apricots were a good replacement for the cranberries. (And I feel like I've written the word apricot a billion times now. Apricot apricot apricot.) Now if only I could find a healthy whole wheat scone recipe that was flaky and wonderful like this one.

Apricot Orange Scones
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten)

4 cups all-purpose flour
(plus 1/4 cup all purpose-flour)
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 pound (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup dried apricots, chopped

1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water, for egg wash

1/2 cup (plus 2 tablespoons) confectioners' sugar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs and heavy cream and, with the mixer on low speed, slowly add to the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will look lumpy! Combine the dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of flour, add to the dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

3. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll or pat the dough just under 1-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on the prepared sheet pan. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

4. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash, sprinkle with granulated sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes and then whisk together the confectioners' sugar and orange juice, and drizzle over the scones.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sweet Potato Badi

I really like this meal because it's tasty and I feel like it's good for me (hopefully I'm not deluded in thinking that). It has red lentils, tomatoes, zucchini, peas, sweet potato, and yogurt to make it creamy. (And being a coconut fiend, I love that this main course incorporates dried shredded unsweetened coconut.) The sweet potato badi is filling and easy to make, so as you can see this dish is a keeper. This is actually only my second time making it, only because I like trying out new recipes. I can see it being a dish I fall back on when I don't want to think about my meals for the week.

The first time I made the recipe I thought it was really weird that I had mixed up this bowl of coconut, plain yogurt, minced chile peppers, and salt. Definitely not a combination I had encountered before. All the ingredients come together really well though, and it's good reheated too.

Sweet Potato Badi
(Adapted from Entertaining for a Veggie Planet by Didi Emmons)

Serves 4
Takes about 40 minutes to make.

1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup raw red lentils
8 curry leaves or 1 tsp ground cumin
1 medium yellow, white or new potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 small zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
2 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 cup (175g) plain yogurt
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 tsp salt

Brown rice

1. In a small, dry skillet, toast the coconut over medium heat, shaking the skillet often, until the coconut is uniformly light brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the coconut to a small bowl and set aside.

2. In the same skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the lentils and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring, until they begin to brown. Stir in the curry leaves or cumin. Add the potato, sweet potato, and 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, and peas, and cook until the vegetables are fork-tender and the liquid is almost gone, about 10 minutes more. If the liquid evaporates too quickly, add a little more water. Remove from the heat.

3. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the toasted coconut and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the remaining coconut, yogurt, chiles, and salt, and whisk until smooth. Fold the yogurt mixture gently into the vegetables. Cover the skillet and let stand for a few minutes until warmed through. Transfer the badi to a serving bowl and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons coconut on top. Serve immediately with rice.

*I halved the recipe this time and just used the 1 sweet potato.
General note: If you're eating this with brown rice, start cooking the rice before you even start doing anything.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Peculiar Peanut Pasta

I'm always up for trying new pasta recipes and I love peanut sauce, so the recipe in The Clueless Vegetarian for "peculiar peanut pasta" was something I had to try. So far I've tried the tzatziki and crepes recipes from this cookbook and both turned out well. Most of the recipes in The Clueless Vegetarian seem, well, aimed at the clueless vegetarian. It seems like a great beginner cookbook, covering all the bases of vegetarian cooking.

This dish was easy enough to make and turned out well. The sauce is thicker than other peanut sauces I've made, and uses buttermilk (which I had no idea was good for you). I definitely recommend adding vegetables or other nuts to the pasta to make it something more special, and more balanced. I only added snow peas and cashews, but other things I'd like to add are carrots, broccoli, chopped peanuts, almonds, bell peppers, zucchini, and water chestnuts. Mmm I love the crunch of water chestnuts.

Peculiar Peanut Pasta
(Adapted from The Clueless Vegetarian by Evelyn Raab)

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp finely chopped onion*
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp finely grated ginger root
2 green onions, sliced
1 tsp Chinese chili paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup natural smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 lb (250 g) fettuccine

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring until the onion is softened - 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the green onions, chili paste, soy sauce, coriander and cumin, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the peanut butter, stir until smooth,t hen add the buttermilk or vegetable broth. Heat through. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more buttermilk or broth to thin it until it is pourable.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until tender but not mushy. Drain well. Toss the sauce with hot cooked pasta.

*I'd use more onion next time.

My general note: I recommend steaming or parboiling the vegetables you're going to use, which you could do in the water you use to boil the pasta in before cooking the pasta.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Organizing Online Recipes

I've had such a difficult time trying to figure out the best way to save and organize online recipes. I used to bookmark them in my browser, but then I lost all my bookmarks. Then I printed them all, but now I realize that's a waste of paper. And then I decided I would just copy/paste them and save them in word documents on my computer, put into general folders (appetizers, baked goods, etc). The last way was not a bad way of doing it but I really hated the process of it. So then (yes there were many steps to get to what I'm doing now) I thought I'd try out delicious since you can have many tags for each link. I wasn't completely happy with it because I always worry that people will take down recipes, or if they're on some place like the Food Network website then they'll only be up for a limited time.

Which brings me to now. I know you're dying to know what I've decided to do. I've been following a post on delicious:days about how everybody organizes their recipes. Jennifer from Ordinary Time commented saying that her and her husband have a dedicated gmail account that they email recipes to. The title goes in the subject line, the link goes in the body as well as the recipe. They then tag the recipes with whatever categories they think they fall under. Brilliant! I can email myself from anywhere and not have to transfer it somewhere else later (as I did with previous methods). I'm so happy to finally have a good way of organizing recipes I find online, which is why I had to share it!

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Beginning of Many Cake Adventures

I've been eyeing this recipe in the Rebar cookbook since I bought it a couple of years ago. It just sounded so decadent, complex and tasty! Finally I got the chance to make it a couple of weeks ago for father's day dinner.

I've never made a cake before (not counting cheesecakes and cupcakes) that didn't come from a box. I never really had an interest in it, especially icing it which seemed like such a pain. Ironically, icing the cake ended up being my favourite part. For some reason recently I've been really into the idea of cupcakes and cakes so I was more than ready to try out this recipe! It's basically a tricked out carrot cake - add white chocolate to the cream cheese icing, and add coconut and pineapple to the cake (as well as walnuts, dates and obviously carrot).

I loved every step of making this cake. Mixing up all the ingredients for the batter (minus having to cut up the extremely sticky dates), baking two perfect round little cakes, putting a layer of icing between the two cakes (yes I found this very exciting!), carefully spreading the icing around the sides of the cake trying to make it even and not get crumbs in the icing (probably where my fear of icing cakes originated), and finally topping it off with toasted coconut (which I kind of threw at the sides of the cake to make it stick). I'm so in love with making cakes. I wish I had a reason to make a cake at least once a week.

As for the taste of the cake - delicious. The icing was definitely sweet (but what do you expect with cream cheese + icing sugar + white chocolate) but so tasty, but then cream cheese icing is my favourite kind. The actual cake was very moist and packed with flavour (which is to be expected with all those delicious mix ins). The recipe might look very involved and complicated but it's actually really easy to make. A very successful cake making experience for me, and I look forward to making this cake again for my brother's birthday next year! And perhaps getting one of those cake domes that has a pedestal (because it's not fair to the cake to not be properly showcased, right?)

Carrot Coconut Cake (with Cream Cheese-White Chocolate Icing)
(Adapted from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook)

Yields one very delicious 8" round cake

1 1/2 cups grated carrots
3/4 cup (180 mL) crushed pineapple
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup olive oil (or other oil)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
9 oz (270g) cream cheese (firm block, not spreadable)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
3 oz (90g) white chocolate
3 cups icing sugar, sifted

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 8" round cake pans and set aside. Combine grated carrot, pineapple, coconut and walnuts in a large bowl. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugars with the eggs. Stir in the vanilla and whip on high until the volume has tripled. On low, pour the oil in slowly to blend in.

2. Combine the remaining dry ingredients and gently stir into the egg mix. Fold in the carrot mixture. Divide the batter among the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake 30 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

3. While the cakes cool, prepare the frosting. Beat cream cheese on high until smooth and fluffy. Lightly blend in vanilla and butter. Melt white chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat. Add hot melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on high again until smooth and fluffy. Slowly add icing sugar, stopping to scrape down the sides now and then. beat on high until all the sugar is well incorporated and the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

4. Spread bottom layer with one third of the frosting, smoothing it evenly to the edges. Chill 10 minutes. Place the top cake layer on and frost the top and sides as you like. garnish with toasted coconut, walnuts and/or a decorative piped border. Store refrigerated where it will keep well for up to 4 days.