29 December 2008

...and Hagia on her blanket and I with a nightcap...

...collapsed on the chesterfield,
for a long winter's nap...

No, sorry. No Daring Baker contribution from me this month...eight fruitcakes and 20 dozen cookies have pretty much rendered me exhausted for any more Christmassy baking.

Still recovering from three hours of gluttony on Christmas Day and the almost annual Boxing Day turkey pot pie making extravaganza.

Will be back in the New Year. Until then, please keep safe and have a lovely, festive, soused, tea-totalling, quiet and joyous New Year.


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25 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

Photographed are the lovely, lovely biscuits as part of the Cookie Exchange I organised this year. I'm never disappointed with the sweet, buttery, creative and delicious things my colleagues produce. Even Beelzebub mostly behaved--the true Christmas miracle, I think.

So, what did we get? Top: Cherry-Nut Christmas Cookies, Brown Buttercrunch cookies, Middle: Button Cookies, Chocomint Crinkles, Bottom: Whipped shortbreads

Personally, I think Christmas screams shortbread as far as biscuits go. For such a simple treat -- butter, sugar and flour--it's amazing the variations out there. Here's the recipe, for those of you looking for something that's virtually foolproof:

Whipped Shortbreads
1/2 cup of butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 170C/350F

Combine ingredients and beat for 10 minutes.

Drop from teaspoon on to ungreased cookie sheet.

Decorate if desired (sprinkles, cherry, etc.)
Bake for 8 to 12 minutes (or until lightly brown on bottom) and cool completely on cookie sheet before removing.

Makes approx. 36 small shortbread.

All the best to you and yours...


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22 December 2008

Milk Calendar Mondays

Well here we are...the final Milk Calendar Monday. I'd like to add "ever" to the end of that last sentence, but who knows, it may come back...but not for a long, long time.

The new calendar arrived a few weeks ago and I do admit that, at first glance, the recipes look more interesting via Indian, Thai, Greek and Vietnamese influences, but it also keeps some of what really bugged me in the 2008 calendar--I don' think anyone will successfully convince me that adding three cups of milk to a curry is a good thing.

The final 2008 recipe is their Almond Cranberry Loaf. Gosh, it looked pretty on the calendar...and it was marginally seasonal--cranberries always get me into a Christmassy mood. The recipe read well enough, and as usual the "for the adventurous" recommendation of adding dried apricots and substituting hazelnuts for almonds made me sigh...heavily.

Here, I admit to a couple of changes, to suit what was in my pantry. I'd actually run out of milk the day I made this, so instead I used the equal amount of yoghurt. I also was in the midst of fruitcaking (yes, I am a charter member, founding president and chief fruit macertator of the Fruitcake Liberation Front), so I was up to my elbows in pecans and chucked them into the bread instead of almonds. But I did use the apricots as recommended for the adventurous.

The bread itself wasn't too bad--a bit heavy, and I do like my fruit breads fruitier. Overall, a mostly inoffensive cake.

For those of you who want to relive my pain, here's a link to all the Milk Calendar Monday adventures.

I don't know about you, but I think I deserve a mug of heavily cognac-ed egg nog after this year-long adventure.


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19 December 2008

I'm an e-Auntie

No foodish post, but some important foodish news...

Our very dear Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar has some very wonderful news.


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16 December 2008

Ladies who lunch: Spiced Pickled Pears

To me, pears are forever and inextricably linked to cold weather.

Every so many autumns My Dear Little Cardamummy puts up jars and jars of stewed pears. For whatever reason, I only recall them brought up on extremely cold nights, warmed in their sweet viscous syrup spiced with cloves and cinnamon mixing wth rivulets of melted ice cream. Quite possibly the best and most comforting wintery dessert I can think of.

The other week, when I invited a friend over for Sunday lunch, I pored over cookbooks looking for warming, tasty and (of course) none-too labour intensive. Making matters a bit more interesting is the fact she is a vegetarian, so my usual fall back of roast chicken or perhaps another a good, brunchy tableful including bacon and sausage, wasn't in the cards.

Bound and determined to do anything but pasta (I remember my veggie days and the unending platefuls of pasta served because they really didn't know what else to feed me) I went to my favourite vegetarian cookbook, Delia's Vegetarian Collection (yes, Delia Smith before she sold out to the semi-homemade crowd) for inspiration. I'm not sure which part caught my eye -- the bleu cheese strudel or the spiced, pickled pears that accompany it. Granted, they aren't my mum's stewed pears, but there were familiar elements -- sweetness, spice and soft flesh.

They were incredibly easy to make and, more importantly, they could be made ahead. Even though they went really well with the strudel (bleu cheese and pears are such the classic duo), they, complete with their amber liquid would nicely accompany a roasted pork loin or duck.

Spiced Pickled Pears
adapted from Delia Smith's Delia's Vegetarian Collection, p 158
Serves six

110g brown sugar
340ml apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
6 juniper berries, crushed
6 hard pears, peeled leaving the stems intact

Preheat oven to 190C/375F.

Add everything but the pears to an ovenproof pot (I used my smaller Dutch Oven), and while stirring contantly to dissolve the sugar, bring it up to a boil. Place the pears on their sides in the liquid, lid the pot and pop it into the oven for 30 minutes.

After the half-hour point is up, carefully turn over the fruit and return the lidded pot to the oven for another 20-30 minutes, or until tender.

Remove from the oven and allow the fruit to cool in their liquid before serving one pear per person.


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13 December 2008

On My Rickety Shelves: Nigella Christmas

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my kitchen.

Nigella Christmas: food, family, friends, festivities
By Nigella Lawson
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Canada
288 pages; $50

Christmas does strange and occasionally deluded things to people. Overcome with seasonal cheer, nostalgic traipses to family dinners which may or may not have actually happened, or simply psychic pressures for those who need a GPS to find their kitchens to become instantaneous domestic goddesses (or gods) sees many people planning grand yet intimate entertaining. Booksellers line windows with covers featuring beautifully simple yet ornate tables complete with celebrity authors with whiter than white teeth bared in a welcoming grin that exudes “There’s no way you can mimic in a few hours what the small militia of cooks, stylists and other sorts take weeks or months to do…but I’ll let you believe you can…” Television specials are little better: perfectly coiffed, presenters with nary a drop of exertion or stress-induced dew punctuates the ease in which Stepford homemakers can pull together a perfect Christmas for the perfect set of family and friends.

Perfection is never my goal. Deliciousness is. Mind you…when others seem to push their culinary envelope, I’m more than content to fall into familiar routines. Don’t get me wrong. I love my November-December foodish rituals: fruitcakes and sticky toffee puds, dozens upon dozens of cookies, turkey with the trimmings…cognac. There’s a sense of comfort in doing the same old-same old. But at the same time there’s a part of me that searches for something new or, at the very least, a new-to-me way to prepare something not so new…that doesn’t eat up the last remaining moments of a far-too-crammed schedule.

Nigella Lawson’s latest recipe collection, Nigella Christmas: food, family, friends, festivities, promises readers practical, no-nonsense holiday inspiration. A companion tome to her 2007 three episode Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen, Lawson provides additional recipes and advice to those hoping for entertaining that can run from elegant to homey.

The book itself is what I’ve come to expect from a post How To Be A Domestic Goddess Lawson: gorgeous, glossy with La Lawson herself as the ultimate bit of food porn, tucked between sparkly-topped biscuits, glistening and glazed cocktail sausages, and juicily studded gammon. Recipes are divided into nine sections, each focussing on a different part of cheery holiday entertaining, including suggestions for “mass catering” and not-so mass catering for cocktail parties, side dishes friendly suppers, Christmas baking edible gifts, pages on both the main holiday meal along with a Christmas brunch, hot drinks and, as is her way, foods to combat the season of overindulgence. Heck. She even offers a stress-relieving Christmas rota to help plan the big day.

For me, Lawson’s lure is her words. My goodness, she’s not afraid to use her vocabulary…nor does she seem overly concerned with dumbing herself down for the masses—where else, in modern writing, would one read
“So the following, I hope, will allow the abstemious to raise a garish glass
with the rest of us.”
Her turns of phrase are voiced with experience, practicality and an honesty that never seems forced or contrived. One of my favourite lines is about the Tiramisu Layer Cake (p93):
“I wish I were the sort of person who could make enough but no more, but that’s
never going to be the case: when I made this for my brother’s birthday, he came
back round for a couple slices the next day. And that’s the way I like it.”

The recipes are trademark Lawson: practical, delicious and rooted in tradition but updated to modern flavours and tastes. For example her “luscious dinner for 6-8” (p70) features a lamb and date tagine, red onion and pomegranate relish with gleaming maple cheesecake for dessert. No, in this case it’s not everyday food, but it’s warm and hearty food to be shared with friends. Each recipe is easily followed and has make-ahead or freeze-ahead tips within the margin. Most, if not all, are photographed. Most of the recipes serve at least six people, with relatively few for smaller groups of diners.

One thing I was quite concerned about prior to receiving the book was North American publisher’s preoccupation with translating weights into volumes—grams of flour to cups of flour. Rarely, in my experience, are the Americanised instructions as accurate as the original (and dare I venture a guess that there are problems when going the other way ’round); mentions of problems in her earlier tomes are scattered far and wide throughout the blogosphere. Thank goodness the good people at Random House Canada did not winkle away at the original text. As far as I can tell everything is left in its original English. Yes this may pose problems for some, but really…all you need to do is buy a scale (mine’s from Canadian Tire) and look up the Centigrade to Fahrenheit conversion.

All that said, the value of a cookbook is in the cooking. Wherever possible, I scaled down the recipe to serve four or so people.

Cuban Cure Black Bean Soup (p264)
This is what I call a “pantry soup”—pretty much everything can be procured from a tin (okay, not the sausage, herbs or onions, but still) and combined into something quite tasty. This is my new favourite soup—spicy, hearty and a flavourful broth.

Potato, Parsnip and Porcini Gratin (p64)
Loved the smokiness and sweetness from the star anise and parsnips. The only thing I didn’t like was how the fat separated from the cream, leaving a bit of an oil slick. I’d probably increase the amount of milk while decreasing the cream.

Rolled stuffed loin of pork (p 158)
My friend called this pork-stuffed pork, wrapped in pork, which is an incredibly accurate description. A great balance between sweet and salty and very, very easy to make. Chose to forego the ruby sauce...wasn't in a saucy mood.

Incredibly Easy Chocolate Fruit Cake (p180)
As its title beckons, it is incredibly easy to make. I’ve made it for our Christmas pudding so I can’t say how it will taste…but it’s bound to be moist—not for its regular boozification, but for the chopped prunes.

Truth be told, I’m usually sceptical about holiday cookbooks—they overpromise on dreams and underdeliver on ease. Not Nigella Christmas. Her home-friendly recipes and guidelines make this book extremely easy to use…at Christmas and whenever you need to cook a special meal for family or friends.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 4.5/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Yum factor: 4.5/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Intermediate
Pro: Gorgeous words that accompany easy and delicious recipes
Con: This is crowd cooking—not many options for intimate entertaining


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10 December 2008

All work and no play...

...is not the way to live any life...really.

All that pent-up play was bound to burst out in some way. No: not in the kitchen. Sorry. No recipe today. Yes: I know I've not posted anything foodish in a little bit. But, as my regular readers know, sometimes real life takes over and I just don't have the opportunity to cook or post.

My lost-for-far-too-long play unleashed itself at last night's Toronto Duran Duran concert in Toronto. Yes, I'm a fan. Yes, they're still touring (minus Andy Taylor). Yes, we (that's Cathy, the music trivia queen in with me--taking the picture was her friend Amy) had a great time, lost our voices and danced for hours. Oh...and the songs from Red Carpet Massacre are much better live than the recording. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Whenever I'm in Toronto and can manage to get my schedule to match up with our favourite Cream Puff's, we share a meal or two. Luckily enough this morning we were able to meet up at my favourite breakfasty-brunchy place in The Big Smoke.

Even though we always have a great time together--she's such a lovely, witty, intelligent and compassionate soul--I must admit I was brave to ask her for an early-ish breakfast after a night out...not necessarily at my best after being out 'til late and gossiping until later. There's a reason there's no morning-after photo of me. Want an idea? Scramble the curls, add a bleary-look of pained concentration along with three times the make-up from the concert photo...

She had pancakes and sausage, and I had quite possibly the best morning after the night before breakfast I could hope for--a full English (toasted malted bread, potatoes, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms and poached eggs). Well-fed and happy we parted, each to our own offices.

All I know is that I need to play more often...


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03 December 2008

In a pickle

Well, yes.

I could be speaking of the current
Parliamentary-constitutional issue that's before us. For those Canadians who, a few weeks ago, wished for some excitement in our political sphere, I think you'll find that things have gotten a wee bit peppier on The Hill.

And I know I'm not the only one who's heard the occasional "
prorogue" as "perogy," summoning a former GG, the late The Rt. Hon. Ray Hnatyshyn, in hopes for a recipe or two.

Perhaps that will be the next post...

But for now, I'm writing about pickles. Cucumber pickles, to be accurate.

I must admit that I'm a bit of a sour pickle addict I come by it honestly as My Dear Little Cardamummy is also one. And I must admit that prior to this past summer, I've never made pickles. My Dear Little Cardamummy decided years ago (20, I believe) to make cucumber pickles...without a recipe. And as with so many adventures, she doesn't experiment in small batches. No. She made many, many, many jars of pickles. In fact, she opened the last jar this year. No. It didn't keep.

So this year we made pickles. Well...I made pickles. She wasn't up to standing near a stove of vinegar so I wound up replenishing her pantry (and stocking mine). Thanks to our
lovely and gracious Dana, I was pointed here to answer my canning questions...and this is where I found the ketchup recipe I was quite happy with.

Admittedly, I was a little trepedacious about pickle-making. I remember watching a Good Eats episode about the process...complete with a special pickle crock whose lid resembled a giant slice of lotus root, and days of scumming and skimming. Umm...No. For this first adventure, I just wanted something relatively low maintenance: boil, spice, pour and store. The other things was I wanted sour, crunchy dills. Mum's pickles (the ones that were good...the ones from years ago) were on the softer side and although vinegary, not really dilly. As I was bound and determined to follow instruction of someone who actually knows what they're doing, I found this recipe for
Kosher dill-style pickles after a brief poke through the canning site.

After I read through the recipe and a quick trip to the farmer's market for little pickling cucumbers and fresh dill, I set to work in her kitchen. Remember: she has all the canning equipment. My word it was easy. Really easy. So easy I thought I'd done something wrong or missed something or lost a section of the printout. But no. It really was that easy.

The hard part was letting the jars of sour, crunchy jadey goodness sit for two months.

Two whole months.

Now I have wonderful self control....Mum on the other hand needs to be reminded why she needs to stay away from the jars. Often. Like, daily.

Earlier last month we cracked the first jar open. Wow. They were sour ( I used pickling vinegar at seven per cent acidity, instead the normal vinegar that's at five per cent). They were crunchy (because I tipped and tailed the cukes) and they were dilly. I know my mum has already gone through one one-litre jar...I have a bout four pickles left in my first jar. I also know that next year, I'll have to do a double batch, probably for each of us...


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29 November 2008

Daring Bakers: Shuna Fish Lydon's Caramel Cake

• Recipe's origins: Bay Area Bites: Caramel Cake, The Recipe
• Recipe's orginator: Shuna Fish Lydon
• Our hostess:
Dolores of Culinary Curiosity

• Our co-hostess: Alex of Brownie and Blondie and Jenny of Foray into Food

When I heard that this month's DB challenge was one of Shuna's recipes, I was positively overjoyed. Not only is she the wonderful authoress of the equally wonderful Eggbeater, but I had the distinct pleasure of being on the BlogHer '07 foodblogging panel with her. I can tell you all that she's an absolutely warm and lovely person and I am so happy to have had the opportunity to have met her.

I read though the recipe and I knew exactly when it would be served. You see, this month marked My Most Marvellous Manager's 10th anniversary at the company. He's a truly great person and I am so lucky to have worked with him for the past seven and a half years--quite knowledgeable, a great mentor and quite patient (well, you have to be to work with me). I'm pretty sure he didn't suspect I'd bring in some treats to mark the milestone..

I'm not much of a caramel maker. I've only made it successfully once before. Normally I get a crystaline formation that could resemble an outcropping on a planet seen on Doctor Who. Previous attempts left me so frustrated that I simply gave up, or if I was cooking with my Dear Little Cardamummy, I'd just get her to make it. Well, I seem to have regained my caramel making touch as it turned out perfectly, with little wisps of smoke rising as the Napalm-.like liquid turned a deep amber.

The batter came together wonderfully. Can't say much better than that.

Now, when it came to determining how best to take it in, I decided to go with cupcakes. I have learned that I have some...enthusastic eaters...around me, and sometimes it's best that treats be pre-portioned...mind you, it also means there's less clean up in the end, so it's not totally an altruistic decision.

Cuppycakes they were. the recipe turned out about 18 slightly mounded slight cakes. My guess is Beelzebub was done with them in about 20 minutes.Truth be told, 12 of them made it to the office...the other six were mysteriously left in my kitchen. Funny how this happens from time to time.

I think the next time I make this cake, I'll halve the icing recipe. It's quite delicious, but there's a lot of it. I'd prefer a thinnish icing layer bonneting the cakes, than entombing the delicate and soft crumb in all that icing.

Everyone loved the cupcakes -- including MMMM.

To see what the other Daring Bakers did, please visit our blogroll.


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23 November 2008

Cranapple Muffins

One of the many things I've been accused of is never leaving well enough alone. I analyse, overanalyse and poke holes in things and ideas until the point of my own often-fleeting satisfaction.

It annoys some people.

In certain instances it's to make sure I've made the right decision. I read prospectuses, I look at the alternatives, I weigh pros and cons. I like to think I rarely take recommendations blindly from sales people: I've found their advice is very rarely given with an altruistic bent, and more often planted by sales quotas. Admittedly, there's a little rush I get when I put on the doe-eyed "I don't quite understand this" bunny voice and innocently ask the question they don't want to answer...

In other instances I want to see how I can do the same thing but easier, faster, cheaper or (when it comes to food) tastier. Nothing wrong with that. At least not to me.

When it comes to cooking and baking I like to play....which results in NTSM (never twice (the) same meal). When I sort out a base recipe I take off from there. Sometimes I change one ingredient, sometimes I change a whole bunch. Gosh, it frustrated The Fussy Eater.

"Why can't you just make a normal (insert whatever dish I happened to serve). I liked it the last time. Why do you always have to change things?"

Of course, what he never realised was "the last time" wasn't the straight recipe. My response was usually "What, don't you like it?"

He usually grudgingly admitted that he did.

Case closed.

Mind you, there are recipes that just beg to be played with, if only for the number of times it's prepared. Muffins are a prime example. I make a dozen every couple of weeks and sometimes I revert to the original flavours, I often change things to what's on hand, what's in season or to satisfy a craving.

Now that we're in that post-Thanksgiving-pre-Christmas period, right now I'm craving cranberries and tart apples...hence cranapple muffins. These quick breads aren't like the cake-like offerings found in coffee shops and mass-market cafeterias--the crumb, while not exactly tender, has enough body to make them perfect for breakfast or late-aftenoon pick me up. I prefer to soak the cranberries for a little while before adding them to the batter--not only do the plump nicely, but it also rids them of their imposed, insipid sweetness.

Cranapple Muffins

Makes 12 "normal sized" muffins

60g butter, melted
200g ap flour
1 dspn baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120g sugar
a good pinch of salt
200ml plain or vanilla yoghurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
75g dried cranberries, rehydrated in boiling water for about 10 or 15 minutes
1 tart apple, peeled and chopped (Granny Smith, Greening or any other varietal you happen to have on hand).

Line a 12-bun muffin tray with papers and preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Seive together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar and salt.

Mix together the yoghurt, butter, egg and vanilla. Pour into the dry ingredients. Quickly bring together the mixture--this will only take a few stirs with a spoon: lumps are okay as you aren't looking for cake batter. Fold in the apples and cranberries. Divide between the muffin bowls and bake until an inserted cake tester comes out cleanly...about 25 minutes, depending upon your oven's temperment.


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20 November 2008

Brussel sprouts with sausage and potatoes

Ah, poor Brussel sprout...why do so many people dislike you?

I mention a craving and some gaze upon me with a horrified look that could only mean that I've converted to the cult of big box freezer meats and other processed dinners stores...or worse yet, have become a gym bunny.

Really, these cute little leafy, Smurf-sized cabbages can't be all bad can they? Well, I suppose with initials like BS, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people don't necessarily trust them when presented.

Even a supper party teaming with good-eating (as in adventurous) foodish friends elicits dubious looks at a pot loaded with brussel sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts (from Nigella's Feast). I proudly announce that their scant and polite first portions were not only hoovered, but followed by proper sized second (in some cases a third) helpings, and in the process, I'd won converts to my altar of Brussel sprouty adoration.

The problem, it seems, is a prediliction for boiling the happiness out of these little spheroids until they are greyed, almost mushy and devoid of...sparkle. Why would anyone do that to a lovely little cluster of leaves? Really.

For me, there is no such thing as a lowly Brussel sprout, to be treated with anything that hints at derision. Really, all they need is a bit of a steaming--just enough to take away the squeak add a bit of vibrancy to their colour...a bit of salt, pepper and butter (everything is better with butter). My Dear Little Cardamummy curries them. I've been known to add them to a veggie pasta as well as pizza. But, truth be told, I normally take a page from La Lawson and other recipe writers who pair them with bacon. Really...like butter, everything is better with bacon.

So the other week, when a local grocer had my adored little cabbages on special offer, I was in a mini-bliss...and treated them as a hash-like main course. Not only does it use left over boiled potatoes, it's very easy and quite satsifying. The quantities are specific, but not--if you want more meat, add more meat. If you want fewer potatoes, don't add as many. Change it up as you wish--a favourite variant uses sweet potatoes and thick bacon cubes.

Brussel sprouts with sausage and potatoes
2 Italian sausages, freed from their casings
Olive oil
Half a medium globe onion, sliced in lunettes
2 garlic cloves, minced
A pinch or more of chilli flakes
350g leftover boiled potatoes, cubed (or you can parboil them)
350g Brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered
60 ml water
A few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce

Brown the sausage; remove the meat leaving the fat in the pan. Soften the onions in the pan, adding oil as needed. Add the minced garlic and chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Tip in the potatoes and brown, stirring occasionally. Remove the potatoes and add the brussel sprouts with the water; lid the pan and let the veg steam for a few minutes until vibrant. Strain out any remaining water and reintroduce the potatoes and the sausage and Worcestershire. Mix well and adjust seasoning to taste.


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17 November 2008

Milk Calendar Mondays: Vibrant broccoli soup

Sometimes I wonder where bland diets come from....not medically-necessitated bland diets, but diets that lack interesting flavours and textures.

And yes, I'm fully aware that "interesting" is a highly subjective term...I find the works by English Renaissance dramatists interesting, am fairly sure not everyone shares my literary diversions.

I suppose those who prefer foods deficient in...sparkle...may not have been exposed to said sparkle. Maybe they think sparkle is frightening in the same way people are afraid of roller coasters or bungee jumping: that's nice for some, but not for me, thank you very much.

I don't think there's a problem with the occasional settling for something a little less than wow. At the very least, you appreciate the wow even more when you (deservedly return to it). Unfortunately, there are some who decrease their culinary sparkle so subtly they don't realise they've lost their sparkle. They stop cooking for themselves and become increasingly reliant on lowest common denominator prefab foods (cafeteria offerings, the frozen foods aisle), a mood strikes and doesn't let go, they get lazy and find the walk to the spice cupboard just too far...

So, when I spied this month's dairy calendar recipe (Vibrant broccoli soup) I wondered how...sparkly...it would be. The ingredient list didn't put it into the "Oh my dear word, what on Earth were they thinking" category...but it didn't fall into the "Oh my dear word, this looks as if it has real potential" category either. It did fall into the "Oh my dear word, they think a bit of garlic and chilli flake is daring...no, wait, they think Swiss Chard and Cheddar are daring...so sans bitter greens and pretty much universally accepted cheese this is...um...lowest common denominator."

I will say this. It is a good recipe for a basic thick veggie soup. You can sub a number of veggies for the broccoli (I immediately thought of cauliflower and carrot, but you can probably do a whole host of other flavours and colours) and play with the spicing. It was quick and very easy. It was also reminiscent of institutional food...like what you get in hospital or on certain airlines: inoffensive and lacked sparkle.

Oh well...


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14 November 2008

On my rickety shelves: The Food You Crave

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my kitchen.

The Food You Crave: Luscious recipes for a healthy life
By Ellie Krieger
Taunton Press/Random House Canada
320 pages; $33

Admittedly, whenever I hear any combination or derivation of the terms detox, recipe low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol or healthy I cringe. Years of reading about this diet and that lifestyle, vilified foods, praised foods, not to mention the eventually contradictory nutritionism conditioned me to block out most of the good-for-you, you-should-eat-this-way noise that bombards us daily. My personal eating mantra is pretty simple…and very reminiscent of Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” along with avoiding packaging that tries to convince you of the contents’ edibility.

Granted, it can be difficult finding food (and yes, it depends upon what you declare “food”—My Dear Little Cardamummy is convinced lobster isn’t food). Finding food-like things is easy. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for food-like things—I fervently believe a healthy diet does include the occasional Swedish berry—but too many food-like things can be an issue: hence the proliferation of the above, cringe-worthy-to-me terms.

The thing is, food (by my definition food is healthy) should taste good. Unfortunately, it seems as if many of the healthy-monikered foodstuffs I’ve eaten don’t taste good—they are bland, soggy, mealy...boring.

I’ve never understood it.

Shouldn’t one reward good behaviour? As in: if you avoid overreliance on polyhydrogenatedsalisucraloseinatified foods by eating (umm…) real ingredients, the food should not only taste good, but also make you feel good and hopefully happy.

Take the vast majority of the Milk Calendar recipes I’ve been cooking through this year: they were developed to use dairy and have some sort of nutritional balance. Well…some weren’t bad, but others tasted so horrid, I wonder what on earth happened to the recipe developers’ and taste testers’ mouths (and brains) to ever declare those recipes…tasty.

So when I flipped through this month’s cookery book selection, I was a little nervous. Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave: luscious recipes for a healthy life had the warning signs of a book that “meant well”—earnestly written with an eye towards nudging readers towards the healthy lifestyle du jour. She is a registered dietician and hosts Healthy Appetite, on the US’s Food Network.

Her expository was heartening to me…in fact, Krieger won me over in the introductory paragraph to her food philosophy:

“In my food world, there is no fear or guilt, only joy and balance. So no ingredient is ever off-limits. Rather, all of the recipes here follow my Usually-Sometimes-Rarely philosophy. Notice there is no Never.”

Here’s a compliment: Quite honestly, if it weren’t for her tips on things like building a better muffin and Mediterranean-inspired eating and boxes of nutrient numbers that accompany each recipe, I’d not think of this as a healthy eating book. I’d think it was a “normal” general-purpose cookbook. Really. The unappetising nature of many “healthy” or “diet” recipes is pretty much absent in her suite of recipes. Breakfast can include Poached egg with herb-roasted turkey breast and sweet potato hash, dinner can be Spinach with warm bacon dressing, and supper can be Tuscan roasted chicken and vegetables. And dessert? Banana Cream Pie. Need I say more?

The book itself is fresh and light. Well-written and easy to follow recipes punctuated with the occasional (lovely) photograph. The entire book itself is simply designed and, well, inviting.

Every recipe I tried worked really well produced delicious food that made me feel…good. What more can I ask for?

Curried Butternut Squash Soup (p 78)
Incredibly easy and very tasty, and (like many good soups) was incredible the next day. I used a the hot curry powder I have in my pantry…probably should have reduced the quantity a bit.

Sage-rubbed pork chops with Warm Apple Slaw (p 195)
The chops were so intuitive, I wouldn’t call it a recipe…but it was a good reminder of how tasty simply prepared food can be. Apart from the unending chopping, the slaw was easy to pull together. I think it could have used a little sugar or honey, but otherwise was very tasty.

Mocha cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting (p 282)
This was a very good and moist cake. As I’m of the school that believes cake should have a tender crumb, so the whole wheat nubblies in the crumb turned me off. I’m not a fan of dolloped frosting, so the relatively thin layer was just perfect for me.

The Food You Crave is exactly that. The food you crave.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 4/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice
Pro: Easy and delicious healthy foods
Con: Can’t think of any.


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10 November 2008

Hagia is veddy veddy angry with me...


Anyone out there? Sigh...

Apologies for the week's silence. Wasn't planned. You see, I'd planned to upload the latest cookbook review last week, but the universe conspired against me.

Okay, not me personally, but said universe decided to play games with the weather in my part of the world. If you're here, you know that we had a very odd warm spell last week. Sure, it was nice, but when the elements change so drastically, it plays a number with my head. Three days of protomigraines. Glah.

For the lucky ones who tried to engage me in coversation, you know how loop(ed) I was on pain pills (my skin started tingling on Friday). Glah. Feeling a bit better now, but am tonnes behind in everything else I was supposed to do...work, housework, sorting through detritus...

No cooking or baking got done, lived on frozen leftovers, meals from my parents and things declared edible from the fastfoodrama mall.

And this is why my cat is veddy veddy angry with me.

I'd always known that we shared certain culinary preferences: Equal amounts of pleasure can be derrived from eating crunchy things as batting them around. Olives are divine. Beef in a can really isn't food. Ice cream is heaven. Sometimes only lemongrass will do.

Well...she's developed other tastes...for baked goods. Okay. I know of other cats who like breads ... and that's okay (I think)...but she never wanted anything to do with cookies or cakes or pie crust. She's developed a particular prediliction for raw flour. I've caught her licking speckles off the phone and the floor and my hands.

So when I brought home a container of Timbits (doughnut holes to non-Canadians), she tried every trick in the book to get one. She sat by my feet and gazed up at me. She pawed at me. she even hopped onto the couch and snuggled up next to me. When her kittenly wiles proved useless, she basically stuck her head on my saucer and tried to liberate a baked ball of doughnutty goodness.


Then she heard the words she rarely hears from me: "Naughty girl! Down NOW."

She knows what those words mean...she's been caught doing something she's not supposed to do...but instead of running away and hiding behind the couch, she stood at the far end of the room and just glared at me.

You know the look...I'm sure those of you with petulant children have received it: the you are being so unfair to me. I'm a good little one and I deserve a... look.

I got that look ALL EVENING.

Truth be told, I don't know what baked goods will do to cats...but I don't want her begging for food, nor do I want her to further develop her taste for people food. Given she's not a begging cat, I don't know what's gotten into her.

Maybe she's just peeved at me that I've been so busy...or hiding in dark rooms with a glass of water and a few pills. Maybe this was how I was supposed to make up with her: by giving her Timbits...preferably my favourite cherry ones...

Well...she's not going to be happy with me over the next few days as I try and get caught up with things...and formulate that next post. Oh well...'tis the life of a cat.


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