31 August 2008

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Eclairs

Hello all -- As you've probably guessed by the very recent proliferation of chocolate éclairs, the Daring Bakers strike again. Meeta of What's For Lunch, Honey and Tony Tahan are to thank for these wonderfully easy and tasty treats.

Anyway, as is the norm, Beelzebub isn't to be trusted with items made from choux pastry, so I made them at my parents' house.

To read what the other DBs did with this challenge, take a meander through our blogroll.

As some of you know,
my dear chicken-craving Beanie is now an only cat and lives with his Gramma and Grampa. He kept a very, very close eye on me and the treats that came out of the oven. He asked ever so nicely to write to you since it's been a very long time since he last appeared here, and he promised to talk about the challenge. How could I say "no" to that face?

Hallo all you luvly humman-cats

Did you miss me?

I missed you.

So much happened since I last writed to you. I know you know that my humman's humman went away forever to play in the big catnip field in the sky and now eats all the chicken he wants. My humman is doing okay. She misses him and I miss him too.

I used to come out and visit with him. The OTHER cats never bothered. That rotten little goody two shoes Hagia used to have long talks with him on the phone--making up lies and stories about me--but she he never seened her. I visited--but he never gave me any chicken. How could he not give me any chicken? I'm a very handsome cat and chicken only makes me handsomer.

You know that Jasmine and Hagia and Zeus no longer live with me. Did they tell you why? If they did, don't believe anything they say. I'll tell you what really happened.

When Jasmine decided to buy the condo she didn't know if she could afford to keep me (and the others). Gramma and Grampa decided they would take care of me (and the others). I love gramma. She give me treats like chicken and turkey and oatmeal and ice cream. She even sews toys for me. Gramma says that the treats and toys are for all of us, but I know she really means just me.

I missed my humman-cat when she was away. The others didn't. They don't luv her as much as I do. She visited almost every day --I memorized her schedule and waited for her every day at the same time. The others never came out. She had to go looking for them. She didn't have to look for me because I was right there.

Well, something happened and she found Hagia and Hagia said I wasn't letting her eat and Hagia said she was scared and made up all sorts of stories about me. Everyone always says how nice and good Hagia is and she's little Miss Purrfect. I know that she's not, but nobody believes me.And the next thing I know she went away.

I was sooo happy I gots more cuddles and more food and then Jasmine spended more time with me. I'm so smart!

Everything was good until a couple of months ago. I like to rassel and Zeus used to rassel with me, but he decided he didn't want to rassel. So I figured he just need more rasseling to remember how much he liked rasseling. But Grampa decided that enough was enough took Zeus away.

Gramma got so mad at me. She said it was my fault that Hagia and Zeus went away because of me. She then said that they went to live with Jasmine. That's not fair! I'm supposed to live with my humman-cat, not them.

But there is a good side to all of this. I get two human-cats instead of one and they both give me lots of cuddles and lots of treats. So I guess that's okay. Gramma likes to take naps and I nap with her. Papa likes to fix things so I help him. And Jasmine comes and visits a lot so I get to see her too.

The only bad thing is that they got this black chair and I like it--but Gramma can't see me when I'm on it so sometimes she sits on me. Grampa put a big gold towel on the chair so she doesn't sit on me again. Doesn't it make my eyes look pretty?

Anyway, I promised I would talk to you about the special treats Jasmine made. She called them éclaws or something. I watched her make them and they looked easy to make. Gramma doesn't have a piping bag so they filled a zippy bag with the dough and clipped corner. They made fat worms and round buttons with the dough.

When they came out of the oven they were big and poofy. They smelled good. I asked for some but she said "No, Beanie, these aren't for pussycats." She's so mean to me. Then she took them away and said she would "finish them."

Finish them? She's going to eat them all by herself? She's so greedy. Couldn't she have saved one for me?

I looked at Gramma and she said that they were for a special lunch the next day.

I'm special. I should get one.

Gramma and Grampa and their friends went to have lunch and came back and talked about the éclaws. They said that Jasmine filled them with vanilla pastry cream and put chocklit on top. One of the friends said that some of the chocklit was spicy because the chocklit had chilli peppers in it and the rest was just nice because it had matcha tea tea with it.

I don't know. I think they would have been better with chicken.


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28 August 2008

Settling in for a good, long soak

The other week my parents had some guests over for the weekend. In amongst the various plans and whotnots was the slightest sledgehammer of a hint to have them over at mine. Not being as dim as I could pretend to be I offered my place up for lunch.

"Oh, can you make dessert, then?" asked my Dear Little Cardamummy.

"Yeah, no problem but I'll bake at yours." Beelzebub is still as trustworthy as whichever politician who's causing the greatest grief in your life at the moment.

The day before I went over to make the cakes and the super secret DB August 08 Challenge, I arrived at theirs to hand over one of the giant courgettes my colleague made available.

"How are we going to have lunch?" she said.

"Well, we'll serve it on plates and eat." I responded.

She glared at me...that special Mummy glare that means "behave."

"Well, I'm making the dessert, so I thought you'd be bringing the rest." I said...feeling I was being set up.

"Oh, that's too much work," she said.

"Well, what do you want to do?"

"I want to make pork chops."


"You make such nice ribs," she said setting me up.


"Are they difficult to make?"

"No. You just need the rub and the barbecue sauce," really feeling set up.


"Do you want me to make the meat?"

"Oh, that would be a great help. Wow look at that zucchini--what do I do with that?"

"Well, you could make fritters--like your corn fritters, but with grated zucchini."

"Hmm...that's too hard."

"No it isn't"

"Yes it is...but they would be nice to have."

She blindsided me with that one.

"Do you want me to make them?"I asked (sighing on the inside, rolling my eyes on the outside).

"Oh yes. That would be good."

"Okay...but you're grating it." (it was the only victory I could claim).

For the next couple of days she asked about what I'd do with the pork chops, assuming I'd make them the same way as I did the ribs. At the last minute I changed my mind and decided to forego my ribby ways.

"So what are you going to do?"

"You'll see."

"Will it be good."

"It's always good."

"But what will you do?"

"You'll have to wait until Sunday to see."

My parents weren't happy with my responses, but then again, from whom else would I have learned such deflection and vaguaries?

The truth was, after going through Beyond The Great Wall, I was still in a mood for China-influenced cooking. I flipped through the book along with a few others, but doctored marinade found in Nigella's How To Eat (p443). She followed Dr. Jonathan Miller's lead and called it "char siuish" as it's not quite char siu, but instead inspired by Chinese barbecued or roasted pork.

The greatest departure from her marinade is my inclusion of orange marmelade for citrussy notes along with a bit of garlic and hot red chillies. The quantities I'm giving will fill a 400ml jar--there were a lot of porkchops--if you have unused marinade, it can be refrigerated.

I made the marinade the day before and let the chops soak in the flavours overnight. The verdict? Everyone liked it--and my dad is itching for the recipe...so consider yourselves blessed as you'll be getting it a few hours before him.

If Nigella's version was char siuish, mine is that much farther removed from the original inspiration...I suppose it could be called ishy char siuish.

Ishy char siusish marinade

90 ml hoisin sauce
60 ml soy sauce
60 ml black bean sauce
60 ml tomato ketchup
60 ml black rice vinegar
2 bulgey tablespoons runny honey
2 bulgey tablespoons orange marmelade
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 thumb of grated ginger
2 minced hot red chillies
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp chilli oil


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25 August 2008

Milk Calendar Mondays: Chicken and Fresh Spinach Tortellini

Dare I say it?

This is the sort of thing the Milk Calendar people should be aiming for when developing and choosing recipes for their calendar.

You read right. Two passing grade recipes in a row. Who'da thunk it?

When you actually read this month's recipe for Chicken and Fresh Spinach Tortellini, you might easily figure out why it works: the dairy component (in this case milk) serves a real purpose. That is the milk is supposed to be there and substituting it for water or stock or wine would probably make the recipe worse.

Milk wasn't used to boil rice. Milk wasn't used as pasta water.

The milk was used for sauce. And not some wretched, bland and pallid imitation of what should have been a bold and flavourful coating. It was a sauce that worked well enough and easily adapted to the cook's preference.

In keeping with the calendar's raison d'être it is an extremely easy recipe. And in keeping with the other recipes, it is designed so as to not offend Canadian's stereotypically timid tastebuds. The "adventurous" additions really aren't that daring: bitter greens (Swiss chard) and bacon (pancetta)--but I'm a half-bacon-fiend who's more than Swiss chard friendly, I went that route.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe--instead of baby spinach, I used grown up spinach (I'm beginning an antipathy for baby veggies--apart from the price, I'm increasingly unconvinced of their flavour) and my dining companion has a citrus allergy, so I didn't use the lemon rind, but to add the teeniest bit of sharpness used a about a quarter tsp of white wine vinegar.

It was a pretty effortless affair and the recipe came together in a rather quick fashion--I think I had dinner on the table within about -45 minutes, from start of prep to dishing out the pasta. To keep it as a one-pot dish, I crisped the bacon in the cooking pot, removed the pieces, but kept the fat in the pot when whisking the flour into Ahe milk. The flavour was pretty good--it would definitely benefit from a bay leaf and the bacon should be manditory--tried it without and it didn't work for me or my friend...and if you aren't making your own stock and like me used an insta-boullion, you may want to keep the bacon fat in the dish because of the lovely all-over depth it added to the dish.


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21 August 2008

I'm really not a boorish ingrate

Really...I'm not...I'm just as slow as molasses in on the Winter Solstace.

So imagine my surprise and glee to find out that I was nominated for a blogger-nominated award. Seriously: I was rendered speechless. Now treble that within a matter of a handful of weeks.


Within a rather short period of time three of my lovely readers decided to bestow awards or awards nominations on me and this little blog.

I'm not sure what to say but the only thing I can think of is thank you very much.

I'm never really quite sure who's reading me and why they do. Yes, I have my
Statscounter thingie telling me that (surprise!) people stumble across this site and some actually come back (actually, I think it's 12 people who just happen to have their own Concord jets flying all over the place and checking in on my site), and I get comments and emails from you. It's quite a cheery thing and I really do appreciate the fact that people find some sort of joy in what I do--whether I've written something useful or you find the site amusing or whatever other reason, thank you for spending your time here.

This mini deluge of recognition also comes with the responsibility to pay it forward. I will break the rules and nominate one person per award, instead of multiple people--in total it would have been 17 nominations (and yes, I do the same thing when it comes to voting in my schoolboard trustees--I've never voted in the maximum number of people, just one or two at most).

Without further adieu, here they are:

Arte y pico
awarded by Joy of Almanzo's Belly

The Arte y Pico award is awarded for creativity, design, interesting material and contribution to the food blogging community.

"A witty and beautiful blog."

The rules:
- Pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also contribute to the blogging community, no matter what language.
- Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
- Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and the link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
- Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of
Arte y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

I'm awarding this to:
Dagmar of A Cat in the Kitchen
Reading A Cat in the Kitchen is, to me, the equivalent of a breath of crisp, fresh air. Nothing on her blog seems forced: lovely photographs complement Dagmar's purely honest accounts of food and life.

Yum-yum Blog Award
awarded by Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

"Jasmine from
Confessions of a Cardamom Addict - omnivorous ramblings by a habitual eater. Jasmine, another fellow Canadian, writes with poetic beauty, wicked irreverence and journalistic integrity, all at once. She presents wonderfully delicious dishes with simply stated recipes, beautiful photography and a laugh out loud tale of how it all came to be."

The rules: award to five food blogs.

I'm awarding this to:
Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow
Every time I visit Winter Skies I feel as if I'm welcomed by a with a big, warm hug. His references are fabulous--Tamasin Day Lewis, Elizabeth David, Nigel Slater--and, I think, testament to someone who has a true love and respect of the kitchen.

2008 Brilliante Blog Award
nominated by Jenny of All Things Edible

"I always have a hard time nominating people for these things, but this award seems to be fairly new, so I have some long time friends I can nominate for this."

The rules:
- Put the logo on your blog.
- Add a link to the person who awarded you.
- Nominate at least seven other blogs.
- Add links to those blogs on your blog.
- Leave a message for your nominee on their blogs.

I'm nominating:
Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar
Annemarie is as charming and lovely in pixellated conversation as she is in her blogposts. A strong and image-conjuring writer she narrates her kitchen and life's adventures with warmth and the lightest of humourous flourishes.

Please take the time to visit the blogs who've nominated me and whom I've nominated. They are all on my personal blogroll and I enjoy every minute I spend there.


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18 August 2008

Is that a zucchini in your pocket...

...or are you just happy to eat with me?

The other week I mentioned
a home-grown, pesticide-free courgette, courtesy of a colleague. Notice the singular? It wasn't a couple of squash it was one. See the spoon in the photo? That's a teaspoon. The veg in question was a 1.13kg (roughly 2.5 lb) beauty. Yup, it was a biggie.

A couple of chocolate loaves later and I was still up to my knees in zucchini (remember I am almost 5'1"). If the weather were cooler, they'be be roasted in some ratatouille and if I had a barbecue, I'd have grilled off some slices for a warm salad. But it was too warm for the oven and I don't have a barbecue. So I did the next best thing...I fritterised them.

Let's face it, there are worse things that could happen to a veg...I mean, they could be boiled to within an inch of their lives: any and all vestiges of flavour and inherant goodness they once contained are dissipated in a cafeteria worker's cooking pot.

Or they could be dehydrated and pulverised, mixed with a load of salt, polysyllabic preservatives and colourants to justify the "made with real vegetables"-type monicker on certain foods.

Fritters are incredibly easy--mix veggies into a batter and drop by the spoonful into a pan with about two to five centimetres of hot fat. Let the underside burnish and then flip over and fry the other side. Lift out of the fat (salt if you wish) and drain onto kitchen towels. Then eat while warm.

Curried Courgette Fritters
75g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp curry powder (or more or less, depending upon taste)
1 egg, beaten
450g courgettes, grated and drained of excess liquid
1 medium onion, grated and drained of excess liquid
oil, for frying

Heat the oil until it shimmers.

In the meantime, sift together all the dry ingredients, stir in the egg and fold in the grated courgettes and onion.

Drop by teaspoonful into the fat-flatten each drop out a bit so the centres will cook through. Don't crowd the pan otherwise the oil's temp will drop and then soak into the fritters, making the greasy and leaden. When the underside is burnished, turn over the fritter and fry until it too is a lovely golden brown. Remove from the oil and blot on kitchen towelling.

Normally when I have fritters I eat them plain or with ketchup or barbeque sauce. With this batch I decided to pair them with a very garlicky home-made aïoli. It was good in theory...and eventually in practise. My first batch of fritters, while practically perfect, were paired with a very imperfect garlicky dipping sauce. It just didn't come together: it was lumpy and bumpy and separated far too quickly.

So I tried it again, about a week later, with a new batch of fritters (from yet another mutant zucchini). This time, I wasn't in the best moods when I made the fritters and well...you could tell. The fritters were thin and scraggley and seemed to take forever to cook regardless of how warm the oil got. I lost several because they absorbed so much oil, their edibility was in question.

The aïoli, on the other hand, turned out beautifully--thick and unctious and very, very garlickly. It's quite easy to make--it's quite similar to making mayonnaise. You can make it by hand with a whisk or with a blender (stick or jug versions).

Garlic aïoli
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg yolk
125 ml olive oil
125 ml canola oil (or other flavourless oil
1 dspn mashed potatoes

Whisk together the yolk and the garlic. Drizzle in the oils while constantly whisking, to thicken the sauce. Whisk in the mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


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15 August 2008

Blackout cupcakes

Well...they were supposed to be blackout cupcakes, but they do look more like brownout cupcakes.

The 14th was the fifth anniversary of the big blackout that hit most of Ontario along with parts of New York and six other US states, leaving 50 million of us without power. I know some areas were only affected for a few minutes while others (like where I am) were...erm...powerless...for MUCH longer.

You see, I had this idea: blackout cupcakes--unfrosted but with a sprinkly of icing sugar to mimic stars in a sky devoid of light pollution.

Googling found a number of recipes along with a brief history of the cake: it was a signature cake of the now defunct Brooklyn NY Ebinger's Bakery. Homages now exist--the Chocolate Decadence, Mud Cake, Chocolate Lover's Cake, along with some eponymous offerings--but I couldn't easily find the original recipe.

When in doubt, go see Uncle Phaedrus -- so far I've benefitted a few times from Phaed's culinary detectivism. Unfortunately, this time, the original recipe wasn't there, but Jill Van Cleave's recreation was posted.

Well, the chocolate wasn't as dark as I'd hoped, but the cakes were so incredibly moist. Straight out of the oven they domed, but fell and cratered as they cooled--fine by me, but if you were so inclined to hide the wrinkles and crinkles, a dollop of whipped cream with sprinklies would do the trick.


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12 August 2008

On my rickety shelves: Beyond the Great Wall

Thanks to the good people at Random House Canada, I received a copy of the latest offering by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid.

Beyond the Great Wall
By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Random House Canada
304 pages; $70.00

Beyond the Great Wall: recipes and travels in the other China by husband and wife team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s is one of those books that jumped my review queue. I try not to let that happen: my usual rule review them as they come in but every so often a book beckons to be let in a little early. And since the 2008 Olympic Games are in Beijing, I thought this was the perfect book for August.

Alford and Duguid are travelers, cooks, photographers, and writers, and are fascinated in understanding and appreciating home cooking within their cultural context. They’ve travelled throughout the world, but spend several months each year in Asia. Several of their previous titles are award-winners: Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas was named James Beard Cookbook of the Year and won the Julia Child First Book Award; Seductions of Rice was named Cuisine Canada's English Language Cookbook of the Year, and Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey through Southeast Asia was named James Beard Cookbook of the Year. They guest-teach and lecture about food traditions around the world.

As the title suggests, the authors take readers and cooks beyond food fare commonly found in their typical local Chinese restaurants. You won’t find mushu anything, nor will you find nuclear day-glow red sugary sauces clinging onto deep-fried globules of meat and fat. You will find introductions to the cultures and histories of the various peoples that make up modern China, including Dai, Miao, Taji, and Uighur. It’s the authors’ treatment and respect of these cultures, told in a mix of essay and reminiscence that drew me in and kept me reading.

Like many of their other titles, Beyond the Great Wall is one of those utterly gorgeous works, filled with intimate and engaging pictures of various foods and the people who cook and eat them. Not all the photos are theirs—studio photographs are credited to Richard Jung—but the food photography is not cold and impersonal like so many food porn offerings tend to be. Images of tree ears, a kitchen kit, and deep fried whiting all look as if they were made and served in someone’s home; the bowls and trays are worn and the light is generally warm. The people who appear are filled with character—from Tibetan monks and nuns to a man happily slurping from his noodle bowl all illustrate snatched moments from places and lives many of us in the West may never encounter.

The problem with an oversized book brimming with full-page images is that it’s bound to be seen as the equivalent of the conventionally pretty blonde girl with the big doe eyes: not much use for anything but an aesthetic decoration. But guess what…this pretty girl not only can hold a conversation but also probably write an anthropological dissertation on tribal nomads of the Gobi desert. In other words—it’s more than a functional cookbook because it gives the readers cultural and social information about the foods and people who cook them. There is a plethora of foods presented including condiments and seasonings, soups, salads, mostly vegetarian dishes, noodles and dumplings, breads, drinks and a number of different meats.

What I really enjoyed was combining simple and tasty ingredients to make hearty and filling dishes. The recipes generally work well but I must say some of the instructions confused and frustrated me. I also noticed an oven temperature (385F) that didn’t seem to follow standard Fahrenheit or Celsius scales.

When choosing my four sample dishes, I looked for different cuisines to try as most of my Chinese-food eating have been labelled as Cantonese, Sichuan, Sinagapore or Canadian-Chinese. Two came from Tibet, while the others were Sichuan and Hui.

Beef with Mushrooms and Cellophane Noodles (p 280) Comfort food. Plain and simple. This Tibetan dish of meat and mushrooms in a gingery broth is also known as ping sha (ping meaning cellophane noodles and sha meaning meat). It came together so easily and quickly—I will probably continue to make variants of this as a mid-week lunch.

Cheese Momos (p 212)
With the words “cheese” and “momos” how could I not make these? These Tibetan dumplings are made from basic dough and filled with an equally simple filling of savoury cheese and green onions. Deep fat frying made them good.

Flaky Fried Sesame Coils (p 202)
These are a stovetop-fried version of the oven baked Sichuanese shaobing flatbread. The bread was very easy to make, but the coil-shaping ritual drove me a bit loopy. After a batch or two, I just made spirals. I know it affected the flakiness, but it didn’t matter—they were still tasty with bits of astringently spiked heat from the Sichuan peppercorns and sesame seeds.

Hui Vegetable Hot Pot (p 117)
This soup—as delicious as it was—was more than a pain and a half to put together. You are essentially making a shish kabob soup, skewering like veggies together and cooking them in separately, according to cooking time. I’m not a good skewerer, I guess as many veggies fell off the sticks and into the soup…and I found stabbing broccoli with a pointy stick futile. Next time the broth will be made and the veggies added and kept in the broth.

Beyond the Great Wall delivers a fascinating travelogue, an ode to traditional Chinese cookery and an accessible series of cultural studies. Anyone interested in learning and trying “real” Chinese cooking would do well by this book

So how does it rate?
Overall: 3.5/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 3/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Pretty much lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice-intermediate
Pro: Contains a wide range of foods representing a number of different Chinese cultures
Con: Some of the instructions could be better written.


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08 August 2008

BBB & WCB: For Sher

On 20 July 2008 the foodblogging and catblogging worlds lost a dear friend. Sherry Cermak of What Did You Eat passed away of a heart attack. She was lucky enough to have found Bob, the loving man who became her husband. She was an attorney, a wildlife rehabilitator, an avid foodie and a lover of cats.

She was a member of
The Bread Baking Babes, a ragtag group of people who, like The Daring Bakers, complete a monthly baking challenge. The BBBs held a memorial food event for her that was open to everyone on 27 July--I wanted to participate, but that was the day after the first anniversary of My Darling One's passing and I was very emotionally drained and didn't think I could post something coherent that would do her spirit justice.

This weekend's Weekend Cat Blogging event is also a memorial event with a food theme, and is
Hosted by the House of the (Mostly) Black and White Cats. I'd participated in a couple WCBs in the past, and well, I know I've been remiss in updating you guys on my furry companions, so I thought this might be a good time to do that.

I went through her site, looking for a recipe to create and post--not just for me, but also for
Paz who was interested in sharing this post with me--Sher was in her thoughts as well, but Paz's recovery bed is keeping her from the kitchen.

Sher's site had a bit of everything, but it was pretty clear she really liked meatballs. When I saw her mushroom balls post cross my screen, it just seemed to be the right thing to do: not only do I love mushrooms, but Michael did as well.

Sher's page suggested pairing them with a spicy red sauce. I decided to serve them with roasted tomatoes on a bed of rice.

I used cremini mushrooms as I couldn't find portabellos. Since I don't have a food processor, I used the medium side of my box grater to mince the mushrooms. I know it's a bit labour intensive for some, but for those of us who don't have the gadget, I thought the grater worked very well. I used a ricer to extract the juices (if you don't know already, save the mushroom juice and then boil it down a bit. When cooled, you can freeze it or just refrigerate until you next make a beef soup, stew or meat sauce--it adds a really nice depth of flavour). The mushroom balls came together really easily and quickly....and they were easily and quickly eaten--as snacks and as supper.

With regards to my sweet little kitties...when I moved into the condo, I came to a difficult decision. Because of the extra costs of home ownership, I wasn't sure if I could afford to keep the kitties, so my parents came to the rescue and said they'd keep them for me. Yay! We know that
Beanie and My Dear Little Cardamummy are quite close, and my dad and Zeus have a certain affinity (as well as uncanny mutual resemblance), and well Hagia is just a good girl so I wasn't too worried.

Unfortunately, a couple of months into the arrangement, I noticed that Hagia wasn't happy. She'd gotten thinner and was looking rather rumpled. Quite a change from my usually well-presented little vampire-fanged grey tabby.

Well...it turned out that Beanie's bullying ways came out very strongly and stopped her from eating and kept her hiding under beds and mostly out of sight. She came out to see me and she just didn't look right...so after many conversations with my parents, I scooped her up and moved her in.

She's quite happy and can eat when she wants and not worry about being pounced on by a cat two and a half her size. She's found a few favourite spots in the condo--under the loveseat in the TV temple, on the second floor landing...and of course, on the couch, next to me as I type...she's usually a little more chatty and headbonky than this, but she had a very tiring day being a cat:

The next major event occurred about two weeks ago. Beanie honed in on poor Zeus...same story as above. But instead of Zeus coming out for a couple of minutes a day, as Hagia did, he disappeared for days at a time. Zeus is a very timid and easily picked on by the bully boy. Add to this he's a stress eater and he put on a lot of weight in a very short span of time.

Well, it all came to a boil an d my father had to break up two pretty nasty cat fights--poor Zeus was made into chutney (as my parents would say). Quite surprised that my father agreed to it, but I think he realised it was no longer fair to Z. I got the call the next day, asking if Zeus could come over here and join his sister.

How could I say no? That would just be mean.

Zeus arrived and spent the first three nights locked in my powder room, scared out of his wits, crammed between the back of the privy and the wall. My parents came to visit him every day (they've actually visited him here more often then me, since they returned from India). I don't know who was more upset about he turn in events, Zeus or my dad...really. Mummy said Daddy was crying along with Zeus...and Daddy never cries.

The next night Zeus seemed a bit happier--still very stressed, but a bit happier...the happiness would be temporarily lessened as I decided he needed a bath...weeks of hiding out in my parent's basement left him with a certain waft. He'd never been bathed before so I had the exbf do the honours. They were both quite good about it.

Zeus now has free roam of the condo. There's a wee bit of hissing still, but the siblings are able to stay underneath the same loveseat together for hours at a time (yes, they come from a hidey, paranoid line)--very good sign, I think. He spends a lot of his life hiding from me (nothing new there) but when he hears me come down the basement steps, he gets quite social and hides behind a fortress wall of laundry baskets to see what I'm doing, in hopes he'll get a little scritch. His favourite spot is the corner behind the fireplace, in a towel-lined cardboard carton. I'm convinced he's dropped at least a pound. I couldn't help but take a photo of Zeus in the laundry sink after his bath. The other photo is him in his carton behind the fireplace.

And before you ask...Yes, Beanie does miss Zeus a heckuvalot...even though "gramma" feeds him lots of his beloved chicken, he doesn't know where his brother went. No, he didn't miss Hagia at all and his ears still go back when you mention her name. He just doesn't understand that he's much bigger than the others and they don't always want to "play." It seems to be genetic...his half-brother is much the same way. And yes, I have a feeling Beanie will be blogging again...


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05 August 2008

Savour the Seasons: Courgettes

I remember when I was a teenager--sometime between 14 and 16 years--my parent's garden provided a plethora of courgettes. I asked my piano teacher if she wanted some--her eyes lit up accepted. The following week I arrived with a shopping bag of carrying several kilos of squash. The week afterwards she gave me two loaves to take home.

The next week I arrived with a double load of zucchini (my parents insisted) and she looked...umm...bemused but accepted them.

The next week I had one more bag of veg and she mused aloud about home gardeners overrun with zucchini...I stopped bringing her courgettes that year.

It's not as if my parents weren't aware of the rabbit-like proliferation of zucchini, but something was obviously amiss in their patch that summer.

I can't pinpoint the exact reason why I prefer yellow courgettes to green ones, but I do. Not sure if I've convinced myself of its superior flavour or the colour is just so happy-endorphin making I can't help but gravitate towards them. Unfortunately this year my neighbourhood mediumcarymegamart doesn't seem to have a lot of them...I counted ONE a couple of weeks ago...so I bought it....even though I knew it was about to go off in a day or two (no, I didn' t get around to using it before it met its sad ending).


Anyway, I was blessed with a home-grown, pesticide-free zucchini, courtesy of a colleague (yes one zucchini. More on that in a post or two from now). Determined to not let it go the way of its sole yellow cousin (difficult that, since it was so perfectly ready), I did the first thing that came to mind...a chocolate loaf.

No, my chocolate tooth hasn't returned...but zucchini really, really wanted to be paired with it...I couldn't say no. And isn't a sign of a good cook is her ability to listen to what the ingredients tell her to do...and then do whatever it is...within reason?

Well, it was within reason.

I figured I could easily get get two loaves out of it--which was good because I so desperately wanted to give my most wonderful web designer something as partial thanks for trying to fix my SensualGourmet.ca site, which I broke by trying to be creative and interesting. It's still not 100 per cent, but it's MUCH better than it was a couple of weeks ago (and yes, my Canadian Bloglist update won't happen until the pages are fixed properly..too afraid of breaking it again). Yeah...if you want to break anything, just give it to me...I'm good at that...and I won't even realise what I've done (blush blush blush).

This recipe is quite easy and filled with choco-zucchinified goodness. It's very moist and quite tasty (if I do say so myself)...and it makes enough batter to fill two seven-inch loaf tins.

Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

275g sifted plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
150g semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
125ml flavourless oil
2 eggs
150g sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
125ml milk
300g zucchini, grated (large holes on a box gater) with as much water squeezed out as possible

Preheat oven to 160C/325F; butter and sugar two 7" loaf tins.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the melted chocolate, oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the milk to the mixture in alternating additions. Fold in the zucchini.

Divide equally between two prepared tins. and bake for about 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.


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03 August 2008

A pudding for Paz

If you've ever wanted to visit New York City, but can't afford the time or the fare, there are a number of sites you can visit to aid your armchair travels. One such site is a bit of a travelogue disguised as a foodblog run by our most lovely Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz.

Each Monday she posts a photo of her fair city -- a sort of everyman's photojournal of The Big Apple. Yes, there are some shots of touristy targets like The Russian Tea Room, Grant's Tomb and carriage rides; foodie obsessions like pizza, markets and cafés, and of course everyday images of architecture, wildlife and people.

Anyway, Paz isn't feeling the greatest, taking some recuperation time and is taking a bit of a blogging break. Right now a number of her bloggy friends are helping out and guest starring on her site until she's up for more cooking and photography.

I can't remember exactly when we discovered each others blogs, but our sites are roughly the same age (about a month apart) and she was one of my first bloggy friends. We've laughed and snarked at one another over this and that and she electronically knocked me on my plumptious behind when she gave me a flying tackle of a return hug.

As much as I'd like to be in NYC to cheer her up in person, I can't get away--besides, I'm sure all the laughing we'd do wouldn't be good for the sutures ;)

So instead I offer here a comforting little seasonal pudding for a comfy recovery. A cherry dulce de leche croissant pudding based on Nigella's Caramel Croissant Pudding, as seen in Nigella Express.

I'd gone to the good farmer's market and picked up a punnet of the sweetest and juiciest cherries. Even though I like fresh cherries, there's something about having them in a simple baked dish--pies, studded in breads or unfussed cakes. When set in the smokey custard, some juices release, leaving a burgundy streak, but some--those that are sunk in the pudding and cocooned in sweetened eggy goodness--still burst when bitten. It's quite nice.

My version was thrown together in much the same way most of my bread puddings are put together. I had about half a dozen mini croissants in my fridge, along with a stress-releasing, sadness-fighting, comfort-inducing jar of dulce de leche.

I'm pretty much a purist when it comes to the custard part of my bread puddings--vanilla, please. I don't normally go for flavourings, but right now caramelly goo and fruit are my choco-substitutes, so Nigella's version that incorporates caramel made me sit up...Oh and I suppose I could have made this into a greedily portioned single serving, but I decided to break it up into four ramekins.

Cherry Dulce de Leche Croissant Pudding
adapted from Nigella Lawson's Caramel Croissant Pudding found in Nigella Express

6 mini butter croissants
2 bulging tablespoons of dulce de leche
125ml milk (don't bother with 1% or skim milk)
50ml heavy cream
2 well-beaten eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
pitted sweet cherries.
water from a freshly boiled kettle.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Tear the croissants and scatter the pieces into a butter a baking dish (or dishes). Scatter some of the cherries over top.

Heat the dulce de leche in a small pan. When it's loose and drippy, add the milk, cream and vanilla.

Temper the eggs with some of the heated sweetened milk, stiring the eggs constantly so they don't scramble. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and heat on a low flame, stirring constantly. Let it thicken until it coats the back of the spoon.

Pour over top the cherries and broken croissants, top with more cherries. Put the dish(es) in a roasting tin and fill the tin with hot water until it comes to the half-way point of the baking dish(es). Pop into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the custard has just set.


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