Friday, May 29, 2009

A Smokin' Frittata

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You know it’s been a busy week when you haven’t eaten at home for the whole week, the weekend has slowly crept up on you, and you’re blogging about something you made last weekend. Such was this week, so I’m thankful for the stash of leftovers I had from the weekend that I can tote to work, including the Smoked Trout and Dill Frittata I made.

It’s no secret I’m a pancake lover, but since the parents were in town for a visit, and my mom leans more towards the savoury stuff, I made a frittata instead. Great way to use up eggs and whatever you have lying around in your fridge.

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My family is a fan of Starsky, a local grocery that specializes in fine European foods. Go on the weekends and its always packed with people, but the wait at the deli counter is certainly worth it, with a slew of hams, sausages and other cold cuts, along with lots of cheeses, to choose from. I’m also a huge fan of their smoked trout. Luckily, I had wrapped up an extra fillet of the smoked trout and threw it in the freezer after our last visit to Starsky, so I threw some of the fish into the frittata, along with some dill (the perfect accompaniment to fish!) and a parboiled potato. It makes for a delicate and light brunch or lunch that looks fancy and complicated, but really only takes minutes to put together. Great for a lazy Sunday meal, and makes for a delicious lunch the next day!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grade A Comfort Food

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Leftover bread and a ripe banana—it's the making of a bread pudding. I've been thinking of bread pudding ever since I had some at Note Bene two weeks ago, and while I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of it, something made me want to have just a little more. So I threw half a French baguette into a pan along with a ripe banana and a sprinkle of chocolate chips for a bit of variety.

Bread pudding is comfort food at its finest, combining two of my particularly favourite comfort food items: sugar and carbs. The egg custard base makes for a sinfully rich dessert, and only a few bites will be enough to satisfy you. I’ll be honest, I ended up giving half of the pudding away to a friend, because I couldn’t possibly have finished the whole pan on my own (nor would I want to!). I had a small bowl of it myself, and the rest I’ve tucked away into my freezer, to have on had for those days when I just need a little pick-me-up. I think I’ll go out for a jog now so I feel less guilty…

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Monday, May 18, 2009

A Congratulatory Dinner

A good friend of mine told me a few weeks ago that she got into law school. I was thrilled by the news, knowing she was really keen on going to law school, and was really anxious about the results. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time lately to celebrate her good news. A long weekend meant some extra time on my hands, so I invited her over to my place last night and cooked her a congratulatory dinner.

I always walk by display case after display case of beautiful meat during my trips to the market, so I couldn’t resist picking up a rack of lamb from the market. I also picked up some fiddleheads, which are in season at the moment, and du Puy lentils to go alongside my lamb.

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Did a classic treatment of the lamb, searing it on a hot pan to give it some colour and flavour before brushing it with some Dijon and coating it with an herb and breadcrumb mixture. Pop in a hot oven for 20 minutes and they are perfect! So incredibly moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender. I served them on a bed of braised lentils (the bacon adds smokiness and lots of flavour to it!), sautéed fiddleheads with lemon and garlic, and blistered cherry tomatoes on the vine.

For dessert, I decided to make cheesecake, since my friend loves cheesecake. I wanted to use whatever ingredients I had in my fridge and pantry, considering the bulk of my budget went to the main course. Luckily I had cream cheese, and with the extra limes leftover from last week’s guacamole, I knew lime cheesecake was in the making. I also thought it would be fun to make a coconut-almond crust for a base, since I had the ingredients on hand and it would be a great tropical pairing with the lime flavour. My friend loved dinner and dessert, so I’d say it was a success! Oh, how I miss cooking for people!

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Mini Lime Cheesecake
Makes 8

For the crust
½ cup sweetened coconut flakes
½ cup slivered almonds (you can use blanched almonds—I only used slivered because that’s what I had on hand)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
1 package (250 g) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
Zest and juice of 1 lime
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with 8 muffin cups, and fill the empty cups halfway with water.

In a food processor, pulse the coconut flakes and slivered almonds until they are finely ground. Tip into a small bowl, pour over the melted butter and mix until combined. Press 1 teaspoon of the coconut-almond mixture into prepared muffins cups and bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until the edges start to brown a little.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high for 3 minutes. Add egg and beat. Mix in lime zest, lime juice and vanilla. Fill each cup with the cream cheese mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they look puffy and the centres have a slight jiggle. Turn off the oven and let cool in the oven for about half an hour, leaving the oven door ajar. (This ensures that your cheesecakes don’t sink down too quickly and create cracks on the top.)

Remove from muffin tin and cool on a rack. Once completely cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Extra! Extra!, Part Two

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The other day, I was saying how I had excessive green onions sitting in my fridge. I should also mention I have quite a few lemons in there as well. It’s amazing that for someone who lives on my own, my fridge certainly doesn’t show it. With lemons having steadily risen in price over the past two years, I always like to pick up a few extras when they go on sale. Plus, unlike green onions, I use lemons more often—a squeeze of lemon with my water first thing in the morning to wake up my digestive system, lemon zest in cakes and cookies, soothing hot lemon and honey drink…the list can go on.

A neighbour and old family friend used to make these amazing lemon sugar cookies. Crispy and light, they had a subtle, refreshing zing to them from the lemon zest. The recipe may look a bit plain, but these cookies really do pack a lot of flavour in them. You can taste the richness of the eggs, despite only using two, and tones of vanilla and (duh!) lemon. These are so easy to make, and are sure to be a hit for everyone of all ages! Perfect with your afternoon tea, or a light finish to a summer meal al fresco. Best of all, there’s no butter (the recipe uses vegetable oil instead!), which makes me feel slightly less guilty. And it only means that we can sneak in a few more, right?

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Lemon Drop Sugar Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar, plus an additional ¼ cup for rolling
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extra
Zest of 1 lemon, grated

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the oil and eggs with an electric mixer until well combined, about two minutes. Slowly add in the sugar and mix until incorporated. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest and mix well. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Chill, covered, for 30 minutes or longer.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using a teaspoon, scoop up a spoonful of dough and roll into a 1-inch ball. Place in a dish with the additional ¼ sugar and roll until the surface is covered, and place onto a prepared baking sheet. Using a flat-bottom glass, press the top of each cookie lightly with the glass to flatten to a ¼-inch thickness.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Bags Are Packed...At Least My Taste Buds Are

It seems like everyone is going on vacation these days. My brother jetted off to Australia late last week. Two girls at work are going on vacation next week, while one just got back. Makes me want to just pack up my bags and jet off to an exotic place far, far away myself. Alas, money (or uh...lack thereof) and commitments are keeping me rooted in place for the time being. That's not stopping me from taking my taste buds on a little trip though.

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I first had dakgalbi three years ago in Seoul. It was my first day in the city, and after taking a red-eye, I was still groggy, slightly cranky, and cold (it was winter). But once the ahjummas placed the searing hot cast iron pan in front of us, filled with cabbage, carrots, onions, rice cakes, sweet potatoes, and chicken marinated in a spicy, slightly sweet sauce. The smell that comes wafting off the pan is incredible—savoury, spicy, and literally mouth-watering. Koreans often eat their meat wrapped in lettuce. Place a dab of steamed white rice on a leaf of lettuce, top with some of the chicken and vegetables, a sliver of garlic, wrap and pop into your mouth. Delicious!

It's actually incredibly easy to make at home yourself. All you really need is to get your hands on a jar of gochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste. It's rich, it's pungent and it's spicy, with a bit of a sweet note to it as well. It's become one of my favourite condiments to use in the kitchen. I also throw it in my kimchi tofu stews, my kimchi fried rice, and in dipping sauces to give them a bit of a kick. Another ingredients that would be helpful to have on hand is Korean chili powder. If you can't get your hands on it, use a bit of cayenne instead. Don't try to substitute with the bottled chili powder you can get at your grocery store. Those are perfect for mexican cuisine, but definitely tastes nothing like Korean chili powder.

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Don't sweat it if you don't have a cast-iron pan lying around. While I think it makes the dish tastier cooked in a cast-iron pan, it works just as fine in a wok or a nonstick pan. And be sure to serve this with some steamed white rice. Not only will it help cut through a bit of the heat in between bites, but it's delicious when you throw in the rice in the pan with some of the chicken and vegetables left, and allow the rice to soak up the sauce. Instant dakgalbi bibimbap!

Recipe can be found at My Korean Kitchen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Extra, Extra!

You know what? Sometimes I hate when supermarkets and grocers run specials. Three for $5! Buy two for a dollar. I mean, part of me loves it because it is a crucial money saver, and that helps the pocket a bit during tough times like these. Furthermore, specials like these are helping the grocers clear their stock as well. But honestly, when I only really need one bunch of green onions to help me survive the week, what the heck am I going to do with the two extra bunches?!

I often find myself having to throw a lot of stuff out because I just can’t eat it all before it goes bad. Nothing’s worse than having your beautiful, fresh produce go limp and lifeless, or even worse, fuzzy and mouldy (can we get a consensual “ewwwww”?). Growing up in a family that lived by the mantra “waste not, want not,” it is sad when I have to throw out food that was perfectly decent a few days ago. I know some of you are thinking, “Just buy one then!” But living in a consumerist world, it’s hard to give up a good deal. As much as I’ve been taught not to waste, I’ve also been taught to be a savvy shopper and to make the most of my money. Heck, if it’s cheaper to buy three bunches of green onions as opposed to one, which option would you pick?

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In an effort to use up some of my green onions, I made a familiar Chinese dish: scallion pancakes. Originating from somewhere in the North of China, these “pancakes” are actually unleavened bread made from a simple flour and water dough. The dough is then separated into smaller portions. Each portion is rolled out into a thin, flat circle, brushed with sesame oil, sprinkled with salt and finely chopped green onions, and then rolled up like a swiss roll before coiling it. Flatten and roll out again to make a flat pancake, and you’re ready to pan-fry them!

These used to be a favourite treat of mine as a child. My mom would often make them along with some other popular Northern Chinese dishes, like hot & sour soup and potstickers. Hot out of the pan, the pancakes are crispy on the outside with a soft, chewy inside flavoured with sesame oil and green onions. These are so easy to throw together, and make for a delicious snack, either in the afternoon or late at night.

I decided to replace half of the flour in the recipe with whole wheat pastry flour to make them a bit on the healthier side. You can’t tell the difference. Be sure to use whole wheat pastry flour though; regular wheat flour will give the pancakes a noticeably coarser texture (unless you don’t mind that!).

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Scallion Pancakes
Makes 6

1 cup flour
1/3 cup boiling water, plus more if needed
3 stalks green onions, finely chopped
Sesame oil

In a place, place the flour and make a well in the centre. Pour in the boiling water and slowly incorporate the flour into the water, kneading until the dough comes together. (If you find the dough is a little dry—especially if you’re using whole wheat flour—add a bit more water a little at a time.) Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap and allow dough to rest for 15 minutes.

When the dough is ready, roll the dough out into a long cylindrical and cut into 6 equal parts. Roll each portion into a ball and flatten slightly. Roll out into a thin circle (about 1/8-inch thick). Brush the surface with sesame oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Sprinkle green onions over top (to your liking—some like more, some like less!) and roll up like a swiss roll, then coil up the roll like a snail and pinch the seams. Flatten and roll out again until it’s flat. Set aside and repeat with remaining portions of dough.

Pour enough vegetable oil in a cast iron pan to cover the surface and heat over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot enough, place two or three pancakes into the pan (depending on the size of your pan) and let pan-fry for about 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip and let it fry again for about 2 minutes. Remove and drain on some paper towels. Repeat with remaining pancakes. Serve pancakes immediately!

** Note: Uncooked pancakes can also be freezed. Just pop them onto a baking sheet, place in freezer, and when each individual pancake is frozen, place in a freezer bag, separating each pancake with a piece of parchment or wax paper.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fiesta Time!

I've been craving fresh salsa and guacamole ever since last week's book club meeting. The host of last month's meeting whipped up some fresh salsa, and while it was delicious, my taste buds were not completely satisfied by the end of the night. I wanted more. Thoughts of salsa then manifested into guacamole, and before I knew it, I came home from St. Lawrence with some beautiful fresh tomatoes, avocados, red onion, limes, jalapenos and lots of cilantro.

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The fresh salsa looks so beautiful with all the colours going on: the vibrant red of the tomatoes, the green of the jalapeno and cilantro and the purple of the red onion. A squeeze of lime juice helps wake up all the flavours. So incredibly delicious! In the end, I actually added quite a bit of the seeds to the salsa as well, since I wanted a bit more heat to it. I'm excited to sear off a fillet of salmon rubbed with some chili powder and brown sugar later in the week, and serve it with some of this leftover salsa.

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I like my guacamole a bit on the chunkier side, so I usually don't mash it very thoroughly. The diced tomato adds some freshness and extra colour to the dip, but if you're not a fan, feel free to leave it out. This guacamole is incredibly creamy and buttery packed with lots of flavours. So good with tortillas. I personally love blue corn chips!

Oh, and be sure to have a gum of pack on hand to fight off the post-onion breath! Now let's bring out the margaritas!!

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Easy Guacamole
Serves 2 to 4

2 ripe avocados **
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, stems and seeds removed and finely diced
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped (or to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, finely chopped

Place the minced red onion in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside for five minutes, drain and soak up excess water with paper towel

Cut avocados in half and remove seed. Using a spoon, scoop out avocado from the peel and place in a bowl.

Using a fork, mash the avocado until you get your desired texture. Add the chopped onion, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno, salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation from the air reaching it. Refrigerate until ready. Just before serving, add the chopped tomato to the guacamole and mix.

** Note: If your avocados aren't ripe enough, stick them in a paper bag at room temperature and they'll ripen quickly in the next few days.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Caprese Pasta Salad

Pasta salads are so easy to throw together, which is why I made a Caprese Pasta Salad the other day for our first ever book club meeting. I can easily cook the pasta the night before, and simply add the rest of the ingredients and the dressing when I come home from work the next day!

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Had some basil leftover from last week’s stir-fry and didn’t know what else to do with it at the moment, so I thought I would make a pasta salad out of it. Picked up some nice cherry tomatoes at the market, along with some baby bocconccini. Tossed the salad with a handful of parsley as well and balsamic vinaigrette. Super easy, and super light!

Great for picnics and for lunches! What’s your favourite pasta salad?

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