17 June 2007

You know what it's like

You get a thought into your head and you can't shake it. Regardless of time's passage, regardless of other distractions, that one notion has firmly ensconced itself into your brain...and you can't shake it.

I'm sure you do.

My latest distraction (well, apart from Daniel Craig) can easily be traced to our fabulous Myriam and her marvellous Browniebabe events.

For weeks I've pondered my options. At first it was an ice creamy concept--a luscious, creamy white vanilla ice cream with loads of chewy and chocolatey treasure. As I pored over my options the idea morphed from a classic chocolate brownie, studded with buttons of bittersweet chocolate and pecans to a peanut butter brownie.

Easier said than done. I must admit that in my household, peanut butter is a sandwich spread, something with which I attempt satay sauces, or is simply eaten straight out of the jar...sometimes with a spoon. I exhausted my books and pored over online recipes. I just couldn't find what I wanted: a swirly brownie that married chocolate and peanut butter, not a layer of chocolate iced in peanut butter. I wanted the peanut buttery batter baked into the treat, but not as a homogeneous, all-over pb&c treat...I wanted variances with every bite. I didn't want to read about how I could tweak a packet mix. I also wanted a treat that was fudgey and dense, but not reminiscent of uncooked batter that, um, so many brownies I've had are.

That's not too much to ask, I'm sure.

I saw I wasn't alone in my quest...which led me to this. If I can't find a recipe that gives me what I want, I'll just have to put a couple of recipes together.

As luck would have it, my copy of the UK imprint of Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess arrived (more on that at a later date). I opened it to her brownie recipe and adapted it, thanks to Laura Rebecca's tips.

These are fudgey and dense and have a lovely papery top crust...and quite addictive. My friends and colleagues all came back for seconds...some came back for fourths.

I will warn you. This makes a lot of brownies...a lot of brownies. In its purest state, Nigella's version fits a 33cm x 23cm/3L (13" x 9"/3qt) pan. For these, I used a 38cm x 27cm/4L (10" x 15"/4qt) glass lasagna dish. That's a lot of brownies...thank goodness I have several brownie fiends in my life. The peanut butter batter will not be as loose as the chocolate, so you won't be able to do lovely feathering effects, but that's okay as the mottled caramel and cocoa top is beautiful in its own right.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies
adapted from Nigella Lawson's Brownies (How To Be A Domestic Goddess) and Laura Rebecca's Peanut Butter Swirl

375g softened unsalted butter
375g bittersweet chocolate
7 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla paste
560g granulated sugar
225g plus 2 Tbsp plain flour
1 tsp vanilla salt
200g creamy peanut butter
55g unsalted butter, melted

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F. Butter and line a 38cm x 27cm (10" x 15") tin.

  • Melt together 375g butter with chocolate until glossy and set aside to cool slightly.

  • Beat six eggs, 500g sugar and two tsp vanilla. Sift together 225g flour and salt.

  • Beat the chocolate into the egg mixture. Add the flour mixture and combine until smooth. Set aside.

  • Blend together the peanut butter, remaining 60g sugar, melted butter, two tablespoons flour, remaining teaspoon of vanilla and egg.

  • Pour two-thirds of the chocolate batter into the prepared pan, then dot the pan with spooned blobs of one-third of the peanut butter mix. Cover with the remaining chocolate batter. then spoon the rest of the peanut butter batter over top.

  • Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is papery and the sides pull away from the tin.


  • I rarely recommend brands or other such things, but I highly suggest using organic peanut butter and organic chocolate, as they have far less sugar and salt than many other brands.

  • If you are using a glass pan, you'll need a longer baking time--mine was closer to 45.


PS: If said Mr. Craig happens to find this post and wants to try some of these wondrous treats (or, I suppose anything else I've posted about), I am more than happy to oblige him...


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10 June 2007

And then there was a blood-curdling scream...

... from the kitchen.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting on the couch, completing some readings and I heard a tiny, high-pitched scream, followed by the scrabbly sounds of tiny little feet coming from the kitchen.

No, it wasn't a cat.

It was a mouse. I figure what happened was it scampered across the stove by the heat vent...given I was baking and was using the stove, the surface was very, very warm, and it got its wittle teeny feet burned.

Unfortunately, it's not a unique occurance--whenever it warms up, or cools down, the four-footed populations increases...temporarily.

Out came the arsenal: a newfangled trap, the old reliable one and a sweet little live trap. Unfortunately, as much as I prefer live traps, mousie is too smart and ran in got the peanut butter and ran away. The traditional wooden one scare me too much--it's very sensitive and I'm paranoid of snapping a finger off. The new fangled one is easy to set and effective. Very effective.

I must admit I get very girlie when it comes to mice...I hate dealing with them. Thank goodness other people will. I just hate the idea of killing the little furry things when all the did was invade my space. Yes, I know they are germy, but still...I think what bothers me more is the fact their eyes are wide open when they've...umm...met their maker. All I can think of is Stuart Little.

I wish the local mice didn't have such high-fallutin' palates...they aren't interested in cheese (of any sort). Nor did they want any bacon fat. They wanted (and eventually got) organic peanut butter....a small price to pay . I suppose that is my fate. Beanie, as much as he loves chicken, will not eat plain chicken...it needs to be spiced (coriander, pepper, garlic). Hagia prefers lemongrass and black olives (with pits).

I also wish my cats would earn their keep. I told Beanie to go and eat the mouse (before the traps came out). He just looked at me with a "you've got to be joking" look and walked away. This is the cat who, a few years ago (when there was a different and effective live trap around), brought his toys to the soon-to-be-freed mouse.




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07 June 2007

Salad Stravaganza: A leafy lunch

Okay I'm early.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay early.

Can we chalk it up to enthusiasm? How about utter embarrassment about emailing foodbloggy event coordinators about their fabulous events and then not actually cooking the required dishes because life got away from me? What about the promise of a round-up on Canada Day? How about a little bit of all the above?

Yeah, I'll settle for that.

Okay...the real reason is that this month is super busy and if I don't post this *now* I may not get around to it later (Yup! Another class!)

Tired of the same-old, same-old salad, Lis and Kelly want some leafy lolligagging, some gorgeous greens and some super starters-cum-suppers. My dears, I am more than happy to help out!

Truth be told, my contribution is my take on a favourite salad served in a local restaurant. I love the combination of textures--crunchy veggies, buttery nuts, juicy, sweet grapes that explode when you bite into them and just a bit of chickenny goodness kissed with a splash of raspberry vinaigrette.

It's also a good way of using up a rather meager amount of leftover roast or grilled chicken in a more interesting way than glomming it with salad dressing and other bits and bobs to fill it out...

I'm not giving quantities, because well, it's a salad and that's a rather silly thing to do...Just add as much as you want of each ingredient, just ensure they are fresh and taste good to you.

The Tropical
Salad leaves (as complicated or familiar as you wish)
Seedless grapes
Almond flakes
Bell pepper
Red onion
Cooked chicken (shredded, if possible)
Raspberry vinaigrette



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03 June 2007

On My Shelves: Vegetable Harvest

Vegetable Harvest
By Patricia Wells
William Morrow/Harper Collin (2007)
324 pp.; C$43.95
Disclosure: Book provided by the publisher.

There are two sorts of vegetables in my life—those I devour and those I wish I hadn’t.

More often than not the latter category contains an odd either/or scenario. Either the cook prinked and fripped and away the vegetable’s inherent characteristics (taste mostly, but also texture and colour), or they ignored the veg’s innate wondrousness and boiled them to within an inch of their lives, leaving a sulky mess in the pot, so unappetising that I wish I had some pigs to feed (I know, unfair to the pigs). All veggies need is a bit of common sense. No, I don’t fall into the “all you need to do is steam them” camp—although that can be extremely satisfying—what I mean is all they need is to be treated with a bit of courtesy and in ways that best bring out their flavours. Anyone who needs help with this need only turn to Patricia Wells’ latest tome, Vegetable Harvest.

Well known in food circles, Wells is the restaurant critic for the French weekly, L’Express, and is the food critic for The International Herald Tribune, a post she’s held for more than 25 years. Vegetable Harvest is her tenth book and follows her passion for French cooking. She lives in Paris and runs a cooking school from her hilltop farmhouse in Provence.

Wells divides Vegetable Harvest into 12 sections, covering everything from starters to desserts and the pantry. The recipes are well-written, easy to follow and entices her American audience to delve into the realm of French cookery. For those of us whose first taste of French food was at a pretentious restaurant that swathed everything in heavy sauces, or were equally heavy handed with thyme or lavender, her recipes enforce the concepts of every regional cuisine I know of: fresh produce easily prepared to showcase their best attributes. Her “Roasted Asparagus with Arugula and Shallot Vinaigrette” features green asparagus, drizzled with shallot vinaigrette and sprinkled with sea salt before roasting, served on rocket leaves tumbled with chive snips, finished with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fleur de sel. These recipes utilise well-stocked pantries and well-tended gardens, failing those, an adequately shelved grocers will do.

I particularly enjoyed reading the post-scripts attached to some recipes. She gives tips based on her own learnings (wash the lid and top edge of corn syrup bottles prior to closing them up, otherwise “you’ll need a sumo wrestler to help you open it!”); wine suggestions; quotations (one of my favourites from Marcel Boulestin is “It is not really an exaggeration to say that happiness begin, geographically where garlic is used in cooking.”); historical notes, customs and folklore (the number of papery leaves on an onion will predict a winter’s severity), and seasonal menus.

The only odd bit I found in the book were the sections devoted to animal protein. Since it was entitled “Vegetable Harvest” I assumed the recipes would be, well, all about things that grow on trees or plants. It would also be nice to have weight equivalents for dry goods as opposed to volume metrics. There are a couple of faults I found: because of the inclusion of meat and meat products in some recipes, it would be helpful to have a list of vegan recipes for quick-reference. The other fault lies in either the photography or the printing—the photographs, many of which are breathtaking, have more than a few blurred images. Sloppy plates or shaky hands, I don’t know, but they are distracting, somewhat annoying and slightly cheapens an otherwise lovely book.

However, most importantly, the recipes generally produce tasty food. Here are the four I tried:

Roasted Orange Pepper Soup (Crème de Poivrons Oranges)
If you’ve never roasted peppers before, she provides clear instructions regardless of how you do it (on a flame or in the oven). The flavour is rich with a nice slightly smokiness from the roasting.

Chicken Breasts with Mint, Capers, and White Wine (Blancs de Poulet à la Menthe)
I must admit to trepidations about using mint and chicken, but it the combination of mint, capers and wine works well and probably would be just as tasty with pork, and perhaps shrimp. Very fast and very easy, this makes a good mid-week dish.

Steamed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cream (Choux de Bruxelles à la Crème au Bacon)
I love Brussels sprouts and will admit to a bit of curiosity in this recipe as I generally don’t use cream with my veg, except for soups and potatoes. The bacon’s saltiness cut through the cream to create a very nice dish.

Jalapeño-Polenta Bread (Pain à la Polenta Epicée)
Of all the recipes I tried, this was my least favourite. I just didn’t think the flavour was there and I thought the call for a 10” pan was a bit big for this. I probably won’t make this again.

This book will give you lots of enticing ideas for veggies and meats. The recipes are clearly written and easy to follow.

At a Glance:
Overall: 4/5
The Breakdown:
Writing/Translation: 4/5
Recipe Selection: 4.5
Ease of use: 4/5
Yumminess: 4/5

Kitchen comfort-level: basic-intermediate
Pro: Contains easy and tasty recipes.
Con: It’s not a vegetarian cookbook; vegan recipes aren’t identifiable in the index.



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