Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Trick...or rather, treat

Posted by Bonita

Yes, it's that time of the year again where we have a good excuse to stuff ourselves silly with all things sugar and not feel guilty about it. I used to love Halloween as a child; it was definitely my favourite "holiday" after Christmas. I still love it now, although it saddens me that I never have the time now to put together a costume.

oct31_01

I did find some time though to bake some treats for my friends. To keep with the Halloween theme, I wanted to use candies in my treats. I found this recipe for Chocolate Caramel Pecan Thumbprints, which called for those oh-so-delicious soft caramels. I used bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet chocolate, since that was what I had on hand; however, I kept the sugar the same since I was pretty sure the sweetness of the caramel would make up for it.

oct31_02

A bit time-consuming to put together, but they turned out really lovely. I loved the smell of these cookies while they were baking; the chocolatey-ness with the nuttiness of the pecans as they toasted in the baking-process was very nice. And look at that caramel filling practically oozing out of the cookies... How can you resist not having one? Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

A Late October Storm

Posted by Andrew

Maybe it's because work's been going at a more hectic pace than usual for the last few weeks. Maybe it's because my sis has been torturing me with her pics of her latest cooking and baking creations. Whatever the case may be, my desire to cook up some more interesting dishes was full steam ahead this week which resulted in me cooking up a storm. So Tuesday I posted my entry about making Fettucine with Chicken and Bell Pepper Cream Sauce, which I actually made on the previous Saturday. This week I was thankful I didn't have any evening meetings to go and therefore had a bit more time to cook and relax at home.

Therefore, on Thursday I decided to do the other cream-sauce pasta dish I was waffling over on Saturday, Fettucine with Smoked Salmon and Asparagus. This one took a bit less time than the Chicken Fettucine, and required less cream. I had to add a bit of pasta water to ensure it didn't get too dry, but the sauce was sufficient. The flavouring was nice, the horseradish providing a subtle sour zing to the dish complemented by the dill.

I noticed this week that I still had some maple syrup in my fridge from when Mom made maple glazed ribs when my family was here during the summer. Seeing how pork seems to lend itself to sweet things I decided to try getting a pork chop and maple syrup to mix. I noticed online that there were recipes for maple mustard sauces that involved dijon. However, I did buy grain mustard the previous weekend, so I decided to do something different. Last night I'd thawed a pork chop which I then marinated in a mix of olive oil, maple syrup, salt and pepper, sealing it in its marinade in a zip bag overnight.

















Tonight, I pulled out the pork chop, slathered a layer of grain mustard on one side and kept the marinade to dribble on the pork chop as a glaze while it's being cooked in a pan. (I don't have a brush, so dribbling with a spoon had to do.) Before I cooked the chop I boiled some potatoes and diced them to make some potato salad, using some mayo, olive oil, bacon bits, pepper, paprika, and all the dill I had left that wasn't used in my Salmon Fettucine dish Thursday. The flavouring was alright, but unfortunately I didn't pay as much attention to the potatoes and some of them turned out to be undercooked. With the salad done I turned to the stove to cook the pork chop on the pan. Unfortunately the grain mustard fell apart, apparently because it was a bit thick, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as there was enough for me to coat both sides with a grain mustart semi-crust. After searing each side for a minute on medium high heat I turned the heat down to medium low and cooked each side gently while glazing them, making sure the inside was cooked as well. After I finished the pork chop I quickly sitr-fried some spinach to accompany the potato salad and pork chop.

















The pork chop definitely tasted oh so good! The sweetness of the maple syrup was most evident thanks to the overnight marinating and the glaze, and the grain mustard added a nice subtle touch. The meat inside was cooked medium, cooked but slightly pink and still tender. This is something I could do again, although next time I'd cut back slightly on the grain mustard to have just enough to put a thin coating on each side.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

I do like green eggs and ham

Posted by Bonita

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a boat.
I do not like them with a goat.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

-- Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss

oct26_02

Thursdays are a nice change of pace from the craziness of the week, since I only have one class and it doesn't start until 3:30 in the afternoon. Technically, it means I can sleep in and have a leisurely morning, but like most mornings, I still get my butt out of bed at 8 in order to do school work, or if I'm lucky, get around to some household chores that have been neglected thanks to school.

My friend Kait is doing her Masters in Comparative Literature this year, and is lucky enough to be teaching a 1st-year Italian class. I've been wanting to pop my head in one Thursday morning and just sit in her class. After having my friends over for dinner last week, we made plans to all go together and invade Kait's class. That being said, I promised my friends breakfast as long as someone provided me with my all-important cup of joe.

oct26_01

I had some ingredients leftover from the dinner party: pesto, mascarpone cheese and prosciutto. This got the wheels in my head clanking, and I thought that it would make for a unique but (hopefully) delicious breakfast sandwich. I honestly tried coming up with a super-cool name for it, but it was ultimately described as a Contemporary Euro-style Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Sandwich. Why so? Well, you have the Italian-inspired pesto-scrambled eggs (eggs scrambled with pesto, mascarpone cheese and grated parmesan cheese), prosciutto (Italian cured ham) and brie, a French cheese, all wrapped up in an English muffin. I topped each sandwich off with two basil leaves for an added punch of flavour. Firstly, I toasted the english muffins, and while those were in the toaster, I scrambled my eggs. I topped each muffin half with a slice of prosciutto, topped it with two slices of brie and then topped the cheese with the eggs and basil leaves. Closed the sandwiches up, wrapped them in some parchment paper and put them into their breakfast package, along with some slices of banana bread. I had no idea how these sandwiches would fare, but my friends loved them, and that's the most important part. What I love about this sandwich, besides how easy it was to put together and how delicious it is with the pesto and basil, is how the cheese becomes slightly melted from the heat of the eggs.

oct26_03

Considering we were invading Kait's class, I thought it would also be a nice treat if I brought some biscotti for her students. As always, I love to experiment with new recipes and new inspirations. This time, I wanted to try something new, and based my latest muse on this recipe. Looking at the recipe, I found it bland and boring, so I wanted to throw in some other ingredients to make it more interesting, and thus, I made Biscotti al cioccolato, madorla e ciliege (Chocolate, Almond and Cherry Biscotti). It had a really nice crunch to it without being too hard, and just the perfect chocolatey-ness to them. The almonds added extra crunch and flavour to the cookie, while sweet and tartness was perfectly balanced out between the chocolate chips and the dried cherries. I finished them off with a white chocolate drizzle to make them look prettier. These will definitely be made again in the future, especially with Christmas fast approaching!

Biscotti al cioccolato, madorla e ciliege
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Makes about 30 biscotti
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, halved
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder. In another bowl with an electric mixer, beat together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined well; mix in vanilla extract. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. Stir in almonds, cherries and chocolate chips.
  3. On prepared baking sheet with floured hands from dough into two slightly flattened logs, each 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Bake logs for about 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet for 5 minutes.
  4. On a cutting board, cut biscotti diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes on each side. Cool biscotti on a rack. Drizzle cooled biscotti with white chocolate, if desired. Biscotti will keep in airtight containers for 1 week, or frozen for 1 month.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Because vegetables need more love...

Posted by Bonita

As I patiently...or not so patiently...await for the DVD release of Pixar's Ratatouille, I suddenly had a craving for said-dish this past Sunday. It was also a coincidence that when I went for my grocery run Sunday morning, I found some lovely eggplants and zucchini on sale.

The word "ratatouille" comes from the French word touiller, which literally translates "to stir", and thus, can be translated to something like to stir or to toss together vegetables. Ratatouille originated in Nice, a Mediterranean city on the south coast of France. Traditionally, a ratatouille contains eggplants, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, fresh herbs, onions and garlic, all sauteed in some olive oil.

I love ratatouille. There is nothing more comforting than a hearty stew, and since I absolutely adore my vegetables, I can never get enough of this dish. I always like to make a big batch of it and throw some in the freezer for a quick dinner fix on my supper busy nights. Furthermore, it's so easy to make and it's so good for you since it's packed with so many vegetables. The highlight to this dish though is the colour. You get such a beautiful colour combination, from the red of the tomatoes and peppers to the green of the zucchini.

oct24_01

My ratatouille is a little less traditional. I do put in the basic elements of a ratatouille, but I also threw in some sliced mushrooms, since I had some sitting around in my fridge, begging to be thrown into some dish. I also love to add a heaping spoonful of fennel seed to the dish; the licorice-flavour of the seeds adds a unique and surprising flavour to the dish. I like to serve my ratatouille with some freshly chopped basil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, along with some warm, crusty bread or couscous.

Speaking of couscous, I had some leftover butternut squash from my dinner party the other day that I didn't throw into my risotto. Having no idea what to do with them, I searched around for a recipe and came across a recipe in Donna Hay's Off The Shelf for a Couscous Salad with Butternut Squash and Snowpeas. I used that recipe as inspiration and made some alterations here and there, but the end result was a really light and refreshing salad.

To roast my diced squash, I just placed them on a large sheet of aluminum foil, drizzled over some olive oil, seasoned with some salt and pepper and placed 1 peeled clove of garlic and 3 fresh sage leaves on top. Wrapped the sides of the foil up to make a package and threw it into a 400°F oven for about 35 minutes, or until tender.

oct24_02

Meanwhile, I "cooked" my couscous and blanched my snowpeas. When the butternut squash was done, I just tossed everything together, along with some chopped fresh parsley and grated lemon zest. Poured the citrus dressing on top (lemon juice, whole-grain or Dijon mustard, honey and olive oil) and tossed. So simple to put together, plus it'll be easy to carry around all day tomorrow in my bag until I can enjoy it for dinner!

Creamy Breakthrough

Posted by Andrew

Alright, so I botched on my first couple of attempts at making cream-based dishes. This year was my first in trying to make creamy dishes for mainly two reasons. First, cream isn't a typical Chinese ingredient, and second, creamy dishes can be quite heavy and filling. Undeterred, however, this time around I snooped around the 'net for a recipe for creamy pasta, and I found something interesting, Fettucine with Chicken and Bell Pepper Cream Sauce.

















At first I was a bit surprised at how much cream the recipe asked for as well as how little pasta in relation to the rest of the ingredients; I opted, as usual, to go with 1/2 a package (~450g) of fettucine. In spite of the amount of cream it didn't taste as heavy as I'd feared, although it was slightly on the richer side. I only needed to added a dash of salt to the dish in the end, and the crushed chilis definitely gave a subtle kick at the back of my palate. The use of chicken thighs rather than breast ensured that the meat was on the tender side and didn't clash with the rest of the dish in terms of texture.

















Overall I enjoyed the dish, and I was happy I was successful with a cream-based dish at last. The only aspect I might critique with respect to this dish is the eventual softness of the bell pepper slices in the sauce. I guess I've been more used to crisper cooked bell peppers thanks to Chinese stir-fries.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

La Dolce Vita

Posted by Bonita

oct20_04

It's not everyday where you're in a university class and you get to know everyone. Luckily, with my Italian classes, I've been lucky. What I love about my Italian classes, besides giving my brain a break from English literature, and analyzing texts, and trying to decipher what that metaphor/analogy/allegory means, is the fact that they're small, intimate classes. I'm not an extrovert to begin with; I'm pretty shy and will stay inside my shell around people I'm not familiar with. But the friends I've made in both my 2nd and 3rd year Italian classes are really special to me. What's more, being immersed in Italian culture, you're bound to have a love for good food as well, which makes these friends the perfect guests to have over for dinner.

oct20_01

I know this may sound corny, but I've wanted to throw a dinner party for years. Most people my age will probably be thinking of a wild bar-crawl, or a kegger, but I've always wanted to host my own dinner party. Some of my Italian friends and I have been meaning to get together for a reunion, since only two of us have stuck by and decided to take 4th year Italian. After weeks of busy schedules and conflicts, we were finally able to settle on a date that worked for everyone, and thus began the menu-planning stage. I toiled over the many for a few days, playing with different dish combinations. After much thought and consideration, I was finally able to pull together a menu that I thought would not only be pretty easier to make, but would also be great to entertain my friends with.

oct20_02

Besides prepping dinner, I had to do a big clean-up of the apartment, as well as make my place look more "homey" and welcoming for guests. There really is so much you can do with a university-student apartment, with the mismatched, hand-me-down furniture and what not, but I picked up some decent placemats to cover up the rather ugly tabletop. Luckily, I also picked up some glasses during Thanksgiving weekend. The scented candles ("Citrus Cilantro" from Pier 1 Imports) and the baby pumpkin centerpieces also added a nice touch what would otherwise be a bland and boring table.

oct20_03

I started off the evening with some antipasti, which consisted of some ACE Rosemary-Foccaccia with the classic olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip, and Marinated Bocconcini, which I simply marinated in some chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper and olive oil. Lastly were the Prosciutto Parmesan Sticks, which I made using store-bought, pre-rolled puff pastry. I simply brushed the surface of the pastry sheet with some whole-grain mustard, cut them into 1-inch slices, and then lay a 1-inch slice of prosciutto over 1 slice of pastry before twisting them. Sprinkled some freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the twisted pastry sticks before popping them in the oven.

oct20_05

The first course was a Spinach Salad in a Parmesan Frico Cup, courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis. The parmesan cups were actually really easy to make, even though I was worrying a lot about the cheese sticking to the pan, etc. when I was making them. I ended up baking them on parchment paper, taking each round and overturning them on a bowl before peeling away the paper. Definitely made handling the baked cheese a lot easier, without having to worry about tearing or stretching it. The baby spinach was finished with a citrus vinaigrette, segmented orange pieces and toasted flaked almonds.

oct20_06

I usually like to be out of the kitchen and with my guests as much as possible when I have company over for dinner, but since I opted to do risotto, there was nothing much I can do. I can't just make risotto ahead of time and reheat it; it'll just turn into a congealed mess. Risotto is just not fabulous unless it is made just before serving; otherwise, you're bound to lose that creaminess that is so important in any risotto dish. Back to the kitchen I went, which thankfully was right beside the dining room. Both the chicken and the risotto would take 20 minutes, which would be perfect timing. I actually precooked my butternut squash in advance, so that all I had to do was heat it up again before adding in my rice and start cooking the risotto. Twenty minutes later, risotto was done, chicken was done, and I was ready to serve. And what did I end up serving? Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Wrapped in Prosciutto served with Butternut Squash, Sage and Hazelnut Risotto.

oct20_08 oct20_09

Between four of us, we went three almost three bottles of wine (perhaps a bit TOO much wine!). I'm usually not a big red drinker, but two of my friends brought over a bottle of Tuscan red. They were such such nice wines. Very smooth with a very nice finish. The Centine in particular is really smooth, and went well with the main course. The Toscana has an interesting flavour when it first hits your palate, but then it mellows out and has a really nice finish as well. Both very nice wines, so I thank my friends for bringing them! And honestly, you really can't go wrong with a Tuscan red!

oct20_07

What meal is complete without some dolci? I pulled some cookies from the freezer to start them off, but the main dessert was Tiramisu. I've actually been talking about this tiramisu for two years now, telling them how I'd have to have them over at some point and I'd make them tiramisu. It really is one of the lightest tiramisus I've ever had, and one of the easiest desserts you can possible make, consisting of merely 6 simple ingredients. Alas, it was a lovely evening, not just with good food, but more importantly, good wine (maybe a bit TOO much wine), good conversation, and definitely good friends. I couldn't ask for better friends in them, who allow me to indulge my passion for cooking. Grazie mille i miei amici!!!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The Return of the Biscotti

Posted by Bonita

oct17_02

School has definitely been keeping me busy lately, and unfortunately, it has kept me away from the joys of food-blogging. Firstly, I hardly have the time to blog, let alone getting some decent sleep in between getting all my readings and assignments done. Secondly, with my busy and hectic schedule, I usually just want to whip up something in 10 minutes or less, and often or not, it's not blog-worthy (or has already been blogged about before). I did whip up a really tasty, really fast pasta dish a few weeks ago. I like to call it Pasta al frigo since it was just stuff I had lying in the fridge that I threw together in a pan and tossed it around. I had some leftover broccoli, cherry tomatoes and ricotta cheese that day, so I tossed it with some spaghetti, garlic and basil for a quick dinner fix. Molto semplice e delizioso!

oct01_01

Being my last year of undergrad, I'm really taking my studies seriously this year. Not to say that I didn't in the past, but I certainly lost a lot of my motivation last year. Last year was certainly a tough year, and I ended up baking all the time as a form of escape from school. But I finally realised once again a couple of weeks ago the reason I'm here, at school, studying literature. Classes are interesting, the profs are fantastic, and I'm really eager to learn. That being said, there has been less escaping in the kitchen, and more reading and researching in its stead.

However, I do bake from time to time for both my Italian and Italian literature class. Both being small classes, it's easy to bring something in to feed everyone. It is a universal understanding that food brings people together, and it's a great way for everyone to get to know each other better. Their also Italians; Italians and food are practically synonymous. Lastly, I have free and willing guinea pigs who can try out new recipes and give me feedback. What more can I ask from them?

oct17_01

Keeping with the Italian theme, I found a new biscotti to try out, since I'm obsessed in finding new biscotti recipes to try out on my Italian peeps. This one was a Cinnamon-Mocha Biscotti, and also features pecans and chocolate chips. The cookie was absolutely divine; it has a nice subtle mocha and cinnamon flavour, and the chocolate and nuts had a nice layer of texture and complexity to the flavours of the biscotti. The use of butter also gave it a different texture from the traditional biscotti recipes that don't call for butter, giving it a crisp yet tender crumb. The only problem I really ran into was when I was slicing the biscotti; the baked logs were quite delicate, and it took a lot of care and patience to make sure I got nice clean slices that didn't crumble and fall apart on me. I think I would also like to amp up the amount of coffee granules used next time, just to give it that extra punch. All in all though, definitely one impressive cookie. My Italian lit professor definitely enjoyed them...do I foresee extra credit? Hehehe....

Cinnamon Mocha Biscotti
Adapted from Recipezaar
Makes about 2 dozen
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tbsp instant expresso or instant coffee granules
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 to 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and ground cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Combine sugar and butter and mix until light and fluffy. Add the espresso or coffee granules; mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix briefly.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
  5. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips.
  6. Divide dough in half. Form two 12" x 2" logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm.
  7. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs diagonally into 3/4-inch-wide slices. Place slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn biscotti over, bake about 10 minutes more or until light golden and firm. Transfer biscotti to racks and cool.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Put some heat to the damp autumn cold

Posted by Andrew

I was in Winnipeg for another Saturday daytrip. It was cool, the air was very clammy, it was raining, and I had a grumbling empty stomach by 5PM. I had to find myself some dinner that'd help me warm up quick, and what better way than to warm up to Thai food? Back to Osbourne Village I went...

My family and I couldn't try Sukhothai on Canada Day (it was closed for the holiday), but now at least the second attempt worked for me. The restaurant is fairly small yet cosy, the gold-coloured tablecloths and napkins reminding me of the gold-gilded temples found in Thailand and other parts of SE Asia. Unfortunately I was dining on my own, and Thai, like Chinese, is one type of cuisine where it's actually better to dine with more people as you can sample several more dishes together.

Two of my favourite Thai dishes are tom yam goong, a spicy shrimp soup, and pad thai, a rice noodle dish stir-fried in a subtly sweet and spicy red sauce, and those were what I ordered for dinner. In spite of ordering a "small" soup, the bowl of soup that greeted me could easily feed two people at once! Size notwithstanding, the soup was very good, if not a bit more informal in presentation. Aside from the taste, you definitely can tell that the chef added ginger and lemongrass to the soup with those pieces visible in the soup. There was a good amount of vegetables in it, and the shrimp were plump mouthfuls. The soup definitely warmed my belly in no time at all.

I thought the pad thai was flavoured pretty decently with only a subtle hint of sweetness and a faint spicy kick. The raw bean sprouts on the side gave the dish a refreshing crunch, and it just wouldn't be pad thai without chopped peanuts sprinkled on top of the noodles. The portion size of this dish was definitely more manageable; another dish would've had to have been ordered had a second person been eating with me.

One neat thing about Sukhothai compared to a few other Thai restaurants I've visited so far (and they've mostly been in Ontario) is that they let you decide the spicyness factor on a scale of 10. 3-4 tends to be the "average", usually providing the right amount of kick to the dishes. 1 is the mildest, while 10... well, let's just say I won't be going there anytime soon!

Name: Sukhothai
Address: 191 Osborne St., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Thai
Price Range: Dinner $15-$30
Accessible: Yes

Monday, 1 October 2007

No Whining in Niagara Wineyards This Year

Posted by Andrew

I found this Globe & Mail article that I thought may be of interest to those of you who crave Canadian, and especially Niagara, wines.