Friday, 24 August 2007

Just peachy

Posted by Bonita

aug24_01

It's that time of year again, when beautiful fresh, local produces start hitting the stores and markets in huge baskets and bins, tempting and seducing keen foodies like myself. I love peaches. They're probably one of my favourite fruits (although to be quite honest, there are very few fruits I don't love. What can I say? I could eat fruits all hours of the day!). From the fuzzy, blushing exterior to the orangey-yellow, juicy flesh, peaches are to die for, especially when it's in season and in abundance. At my home, we used to can peaches all the time around this season. We would pick up a good number of baskets of peaches, skin them, pit them, quarter them and can them. This allows us to preserve the fresh, juicy sweetness of the peaches and enjoy any time of the year, even in the dead of winter!

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However, for some reason, we stopped canning peaches for a few years, and it wasn't until last year, after I mentioned how much I missed those canned peaches, that we started the tradition again. I myself am now old enough to actually be of use in the kitchen while canning, and have become part of the production line, where I, often or not, am responsible for peeling the peaches. We made a good number of canned peaches the other day, and had some leftover. Rather than can some more, I thought I would make some Peach Jam with the remaining peaches to change things up a bit. After having successfully made some delicious Apricot Preserves earlier this summer, I definitely wasn't worried about making jam this time around. It was quick and simple, and I'm sure when I have it on my toast tomorrow morning, it will be delicious! And I absolutely love the colour of the final product of this jam; it's such a beautiful golden yellow! It's rays of sunshine and all things summer all bottled up into little jars! :D

Thursday, 23 August 2007

The black forest...

Posted by Bonita

aug23_01

I've really increased my intake of fish this year, considering I've started to eat considerably less meat (especially red meat) and pork and try to stick with leaner meats like chicken and even meat substitutes like tofu. I also love to go grocery shopping, and nothing's more exciting than when fresh ingredients inspire your dinner plans. The other day, I picked up some nice whole rainbow trouts. It's been a long time since we've had rainbow trout in my home. My mom used to make it all the time, but stopped after my dad complained about the numerous bones he has to pick out of his fish. However, having a craving for rainbow trout, I picked some up, hoping that my dad gained some patience over the years to pick out those bones!

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I think simple is the best way to go with fish, so as not to cover up the often delicate flavour and texture of the fish. I stuffed the inside of the trouts with fresh parsley and dill and sliced citrus fruits, seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and threw it in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on the size of your fish). The trouts were cooked perfectly...just cooked through so that it falls off the bones but still melts in your mouth. I roasted some lovely beets and sauteed the beet greens to go with the fish. I never knew you could eat the greens as well until this year, and they are really delicious! Simply blanched them for a few minutes, and then sauteed them with a little garlic, ginger and some lemon juice. Unfortunately I went a little heavy on the lemon juice this time around, but I personally found them delicious this way!

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As for dessert, I made a Black Forest Gâteau today. We picked up two large 10 kilo buckets of pitted cherries a couple of weeks back and put them in the freezer. I've been meaning to make this cake for a couple of weeks now, ever since we bought the cherries, but another recipe always came up instead. Finally, after weeks of waiting, I got around to making this cake! I used the recipe from my Le Cordon Bleu Cake book. Instructions were simple enough to follow, although it does require a bit of work to put the cake together. The most painstaking part is decorating the cake, especially with my lack of talent for icing and decorating cakes. Let's just say that by the end, there was whipped cream and chocolate shavings all over the counter, the floor, and even in my hair (yes...don't ask how it got there!). Sadly, like most of my cakes, it turned out looking ugly and very amateur-looking, but thankfully it did taste pretty good.

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I'm still frustrated though how my whipped cakes always turn out either on the dry side or too dense. This cake turned out a little dry for my taste, even though I soaked a lot of the Kirsch syrup into the cakes. I'll definitely need to take a course one of these days to learn a few trade secrets from the pros on how to obtain a fluffy and moist génoise cake. Despite the few glitches here and there, my mom really liked it! She's not a big sweets person, but she came back for seconds! It helps that Black Forest is her favourite cake...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

From Thailand to Japan

Posted by Bonita

It was another busy day in the kitchen yesterday. My mom and I have been meaning to do a Thai meal for awhile, butit kept on getting pushed back until now. We finally huckered down, bought some Thai ingredients and got our Thai meal to the table.

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Mom made Tom Yum Goong, a hot and sour soup with a soup base made from lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galanga, shallots, lime juice, fish sauce and chillis. We also put some mushrooms, tomatoes, shrimp and of course, coriander into the soup. She also made a Papaya & Jicama Salad and the ever popular Pad Thai. I, on the other hand, made Deep-Fried Tofu with Peanut Sauce. Despite a couple of glitches here and there, the meal turned out nice enough and everything was delicious.

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I also FINALLY got around to making that Japanese Cheesecake I've been meaning to make all summer. Unfortunately, I forgot to wrap my cake pan in foil...and water from the water bath ended up leaking into my pan. **cries** So despite the side of my cake being water-logged, it would have been perfect. Cake tasted delicious though, almost like the real thing you might get from a Japanese or Chinese pastry shop.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

In good company

Posted by Bonita

aug15_01

My family is a pretty quiet one, so we don't often entertain guests. However, I've been itching to host a dinner party the last couple of weeks, and we finally had some time in our schedule to invite our neighbours and old family friends over for dinner last night. It was definitely an enjoyable evening, not only for me, who's always delighted to cook for others, but a great way to catch up with old friends once more. I've known them ever since I was born, so they're more like a family than anything else.

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I spent the last week and a half contemplating last evening's dinner menu. I poured over my many culinary books, searched high and low on many internet sites, and after much deliberation with my mom, finally planned out the menu. The evening started off with Poached Pear Salad with Baby Greens and Prosciutto, and simply drizzled with some good-quality balsamic vinegar and lemon-infused olive oil. Freshly baked bread was also served at the table, along with some lemon & herb butter: Olive Oil & Herbes de Provence Bread and Fig & Walnut Boule. The picture at the top of the page is the Fig & Walnut Boule. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of my pretty Herbes de Provence loaf before I sliced it.

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The hardest part of the menu was coming up with the main course. We deliberated on several options over the course of the past week. Would it be beef? Chicken? Veal? Duck? Fish? We had eventually narrowed it down to poultry and fish by some point last week, but eventually opted for cornish hens. I ended up making Stuffed Cornish Hens with Port Sauce, the stuffing made from a medley of wild and brown rice, turkey sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, dried cranberries and fresh herbs. The port sauce that accompanied the hens was also very delicious; the use of Tawny Port gave the sauce a perfect hint of sweetness without making it too heavy or overwhelming. We served Roasted Beets drizzeld with some balsamic vinegar and Steamed Broccoli as side dishes.

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Dessert was a simple affair. I had some extra cookies (Shortbread, Pistachio White Chocolate Thumbprints and Rugelach) from last week which I threw into the freezer. I merely pulled them out of the freezer yesterday morning to thaw, and they were still absolutely delicious. I also made Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies after reading so much about it on other foodblogs. Made the dough the day before and baked half of them yesterday morning. However, I found the dough impossible to work with; maybe it's just me? The dough kept crumbling on me when I tried to cut it, and it was impossible to get some nicely-cut cookies. Needless to say, the melt-in-your-mouth shortbread was a huge hit, along with the coconut-laced pistachio white chocolate thumbprints.

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The main dessert, however, was a Peach and Blueberry Crostata (adapted from this recipe), showcasing the beautiful, seasonal fruits. I absolutely love this recipe; I made this once before last year, and it went off well with the family, so I thought it would be a perfect ending to our evening. As you know, I'm not a huge fan of working with pastry since it can be tricky to work with, but what's great about a crostata is that it's very forgiving because it is a free-form pie. It hides any blemishes very well, and even if it doesn't work out perfectly, mistakes only add to the rustic look of this pie. The dough of this particular crostata is also a breeze to work with; it has a beautiful consistency to it and doesn't (and I swear it doesn't!) crack on you at all. It also contains a bit of cornmeal in it, which adds an extra crunch and an interesting texture to the crust. Absolutely delicious warm, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Regardless of the food, it was the company that was the highlight of the evening. Indeed, there was good food and good wine, but most importantly, we were in good company, and nothing can beat that!

Monday, 13 August 2007

The sweeter side of life

Posted by Bonita

aug13_02

There's no question that I have a major sweet tooth. Despite my sweet tooth, I usually don't have dessert. Dessert for me usually consists of fresh fruit. However, I made dessert the other day because I felt like it. I had a pint of raspberries, some fresh blueberries I picked up earlier that day from the market and cream in the fridge, so I quickly whipped up a Berry Fool. Nothing beats a really simple but comforting dessert.

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Also tried some Sicilian Cannoli the other day from a little Italian café, Johnny Guido's, down at Preston Street (the heart of Little Italy here in Ottawa). We actually first about their cannoli on the local news a couple of weeks ago, and my mom has been meaning to try them out. Being in the area that day, we picked some up on the way home. It was my first time having cannoli, and they were delicious. The fried, crispy cookie and the delicious rich, creamy ricotta filling....mmmmmmm......

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Got Roasted?

Posted by Andrew



















I've been meaning to try making my own batch of rasted vegetables ever since I bought a bottle of balsamic vinegar two months ago. Finally tonight I made myself an opportunity to make some as a side for my pork chop. For the dish I used a bunch of carrots, a medium sized leek, a red onion, two zucchini, about 1.5 lbs. of small new red potatoes, and a whole bulb of garlic (no typo here, a whole bulb of garlic). All the veggies were cut into bite sized pieces, with the exception of the garlic, whose cloves were simply crushed and tossed into the mix, and the potatoes, which were parboiled for ~3min. before being cut to pieces. To flavour the veggies I drizzled some olive oil and (generously) balsamic vinegar and sprinkled some coarse salt and pepper. Having preheated the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit I let them cook for 45min.

Only halway through the cooking process did I realize I forgot to mix some herbs to the veggies; I'll have to try adding rosemary next time around. When the veggies were done they looked nice, but upon closer inspection and tasting I knew my first time wasn't a complete success. On top of the lack of herbs, apparently I didn't add enough salt. Worse still, though the upper layers looked fine, the bottom of the pan had crusted and almost burnt, most likely due to not enough oil. Oh well, at least I have something to go on now.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Cottony-soft

Posted by Bonita

aug10_01

Oh. My. God. This Raisin Loaf bread is absolutely amazing. No words here can describe how amazingly soft this bread turned out. I'll probably be one of my top favourites now, along with the Hokkaido Milk Loaf.

When I was in Hong Kong last winter, my uncle and aunt would always pick up these little raisin buns (often than not still fresh from the oven!) from the bakery while they were doing their grocery runs. I fell in love with these buns. They had a delicate, cotton-texture to them, and I just loved the sweetness the raisins added to the bun. I'll confess...I had more of those buns than I really should have. Ever since I've started my craze of bread this summer, my uncle has mentioned to me a couple of times on the phone that I should try to make those raisin buns. And as much as I wanted to, I hadn't found a recipe as a base to start off with. Until now.

This loaf is really easy to make, although it does take a bit of time and care to put it all together. Fortunately, my KitchenAid did most of the grunt work for me (thank goodness!). I've never worked with adding cold butter to a bread dough like this; I've only done the melted butter method, and that was usually added at the beginning of the process before flour would be added. So it was interesting and worrying at the same time; I was afraid that the butter wouldn't be able to incorporate itself properly into the dough and then I would wind up with a dough with random clumps of butter all over it. Luckily, that did not happen. Dough turned out beautifully, although I did need to add a bit more flour after I added the raisins, since the raisins made the dough a bit wet. The dough seemed kind of slow in rising at first too, which worried me. But once I popped it in the oven to bake after the 2nd proof, it all turned out well.

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It baked beautifully, came out of the pan beautifully and tasted oh-so-good. It really reminded me of those raisin buns back in Hong Kong. And it's good to know that now I don't have to fly 20 hours (and also spend a ridiculous amount of money on airfare) to get good HK-style bread! The picture above really does no justice to the texture of the bread. The butter gave it an incredibly, incredibly soft, cottony, silky texture, as well as a beautiful scent. I made this bread 24 hours ago, and the loaf is almost gone now! That's how good it is!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

A dear friend

Posted by Bonita

aug9_01

Last week was my best friend's birthday. I've known Kae for 17 years now, ever since our days in Sparks, pink t-shirts, pigtails and all. She's been there for me through thick and thin; always someone to laugh with, occasionally cry with, and act silly with. We've both been busy last week, so we didn't have a chance to get together. But a break in our schedules opened up this week, so I finally had time to give Kae her belated birthday present.

Birthday presents between us are a simple affair. We don't expect anything materialistic from one another. Rather, our presents are usually home-made, with some "inside story" to it or some heartfelt meaning behind it, which makes the presents that much special. This year, Kae gave me a beautiful collage she made. She's quite the artist and I've always admired many of the collages she made in the past. Low-and-behold, when I came back from my trip out West, she had a collage waiting for me. It's absolutely breath-taking, and she says that van Gogh's Starry Night inspired this work. I'll definitely cherish this one-of-a-kind piece, and it'll look lovely in my new apartment in London!

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Since my best gal pal is so good at art, I thought I would return the favour by making her something that I'm good at, which is baking. Kae is not only one of my best friends, but one of my favourite taste testers. She'll always accept any of my baked goods with a huge smile plastered on her face, and that always makes me very, very happy! :) Thus, I decided to bake her an assortment of yummy-licious cookies for her to enjoy on this special occasion.

I opted to bake four different kinds of cookies, which I thought would give her enough variety to try without killing me as I attempted to bake them all. In the end, I opted to make Rugelach, Jam Sandwich Cookies and Classic Shortbread. These three are some of my favourite cookies. I'm not a big shortbread fan, but when I first had these shortbread, these sugar-topped cookies literally melted in your mouth. The recipe for these shortbread came courtesy of my friend and former roommate Nicole. I've made these shortbread several times for a friend who has allergies to peanuts, and she confessed to me that she finished the whole tin I gave her in one weekend!

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The fourth cookie was one that I never tried. I know...it was risky. But the recipe looked too good to pass, Pistachio White Chocolate Thumbprints, courtesy of Cream Puffs in Venice. The cookies were easy enough to make, although it does require a bit of time to put it all together. My only problem was during the baking process. The cookies seemed to spread a little too much and loss it's nice "thumbprint" shape in the process. I had to actually re-press them halfway during the baking process (while I was flipping the tray) to get the thumbprint again, but that was about the only major problem I ran into. The cookies tasted divine on it's own; I really loved the texture of the ground pistachios, and the hint of coconut and lemon is a really nice surprise. The white chocolate adds a nice, final touch and an extra sweetness to the final product. They did look really nice in the end, but more importantly, they smelled and tasted good!

I truly hope Kae enjoys her gift this year. Here's to you Kae, and to our friendship! Happy (belated) Birthday my dear!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Won't Curry Any Favours From Me

Posted by Andrew

This Saturday I decided to break open one of my Japanese curry packages to make myself some chicken curry. I really like curry, but Japanese curry in particular is what I haven't had for some time and therefore missed dearly. I still remember the first time I had Japanese curry; it was actually a quick dinner with my family in one of the Japanese style fast-food restaurants found in major train stations (in this case, Shinjuku in western Tokyo). Ever since then I was hooked to Japanese curry.

That type of restaurant was ingenious; the visual menu's outside the restaurant, where you make your selection and payment at a ticket machine, and then you go in and present your ticket to get your order while you wait for a couple of minutes for your food. True to Japanese ingenuity, their curry packages are also quite convenient. Rather than coming in powdered form or jarred pastes, Japanese curry is packed in vacuum-sealed "cubes" which melt in boiled water and makes it easy for measurement purposes and portioning, not to mention storage before use.

Curry originated in India with many local variations. However, sizeable Indian populations migrated to, traded with and influenced SE Asia, especially Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. I've had Chinese style curry, as well as Thai and Malaysian. but I'm at a deadlock in deciding whether I like Thai or Japanese curry more. Thai usually comes in two basic forms, red or green (depending on the colour of the chillis used). Thai is especially more to my liking in terms of aromatic fragrance with the common use of coconut milk/cream and lemongrass.

Japanese curry, on the other hand, stands out on its own in terms of flavouring. It's generally milder than most other forms of curry around the world, and it is also subtly sweeter. The sweetness is hard to describe, other than that it's not the type of sweetness you'd associate with fruits, sugar or even honey. I highly suspect that several curry fish ball vendors use the Japanese style of curry sauce.

A break from the heat

Posted by Bonita

aug6_01


The whole country was stuck in a heat wave last week, ranging from the high-20s to mid-30s (not including the humidity!), and with this kind of heat, I stayed away from the oven. Thankfully, there was a break in the heat this weekend, which meant that I could turn on my beloved oven once again!


Saturday morning started off with a simple and easy brunch of freshly baked scones and a Tomato and Herbs Frittata. I recently borrowed a Bill Granger book from the library after having heard a few things about the guy. While flipping through his book, I saw a recipe for scones, which made me crave scones and thus, resulted in me making the scones. The scones were very easy to put together, and they were absolutely delicious fresh out of the oven with a dollop of whipped cream and my homemade strawberry jam.

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I'm not a big fan of "baked eggs" but a good way to get rid of some of the leftover food in our fridge is to put it in a frittata. We had some home-grown cherry tomatoes lying around that no one was very keen on eating, so I put them in the frittata, along with some fresh herbs from the garden as well. Sprinkled half of the omelet with gruyère and brie cheese and finished the frittata off under the broiler. I made this in my new cast-iron pan, which was really nice. It was pre-seasoned, and the egg actually didn't stick to the pan! Yeah!

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Lastly, made a cake since I was craving something sweet. Another Bill Granger-inspired recipe when I was flipping through his book. He had a recipe for a Plum & Vanilla Cake. I didn't have any plums, but I did have a lot of peaches, so I just substituted the peaches for the plums. Bill's cake also had a streusel topping; I simply omitted the streusel topping and sprinkled some lightly toasted almond flakes on top before baking the cake. Cake was delicious, although I might try reducing the sugar a bit the next time around.

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Peach, Vanilla and Almond Cake
Adapted from Bill Granger
Serves 10-12


  • 180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large fresh peaches, quartered
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds, lightly toasted
  • Icing sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl and fold into the mixture. Pour cake batter into a 9-inch greased or non-stick springform cake pan. Top with quartered peaches with the cut side up. Sprinkle the flaked almonds overtop and bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if preferred.