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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yule Be Surprised

This is my third Daring Baker challenge and, given the previous drama in my kitchen, I was surprised how little drama accompanied the Yule Log recipe. The Yule Log recipe was chosen by the fantabulously brilliant founders of the Daring Bakers, Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice.

The Yule Log recipe was divided into three parts:

1) Decorative Mushrooms - meringue or marzipan
2) Genoise - cake
3) Buttercream Icing

I chose to make mushrooms out of marzipan. The opportunity to pretend to play with clay was too great to resist. When I was mixing the icing sugar, almond paste and corn syrup my poor blender groaned to a halt. After I chiseled out the half mixed marzipan, I kneaded it by hand. The marzipan turned out silky smooth and ready to roll. In order to make the mushrooms, I had to wait until my family was out of the house; otherwise everyone would have wanted to play with the marzipan.
The genoise was straightforward but cooked much faster than the time indicated in the recipe. It was done at 8-9 minutes. It was a bit dry as a result, but this could have been corrected with a syrup or liquor.

The last part of the three part recipe was the buttercream icing. This was the big technical challenge for me. I delayed long enough to hear of the other Daring Baker's challenges when their icing was runny or curdled.

But every Daring Baker should take a bow! A big thank you to all the adventurous and early bird Daring Bakers. Because of your experience, expertise and willingness to educate the group, my buttercream was perfect.

Smooth, silky, tasty....

That success can only be credited this great group of Daring Bakers because I had absolutely no experience with this icing. But I loved the buttercream icing and would definitely make it again. My version of the buttercream icing included squares of baking chocolate but no liquor (as this seemed to curdle many a Daring Baker's icing). I dusted the entire confection with cocoa and shared with good friends. A big thank you to all the Daring Baker's and to Lis and Ivonne, the hostesses this month.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Snow Day

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's in a Name?

My husband and I spent a lot of time choosing names for our children. There are a lot of things we considered when we carefully mulled over each name.

1) the way it sounded
2) what it meant
3) name after someone?
4) don't name after someone?
5) can both sides of the family pronounce the name

But I discovered that our children have different ideas about the suitability of their names.

When it came time for the kindergarten interview, my youngest was excited. We sat and chatted with the teacher while he coloured and played. The organized teacher gave him a crown that he could decorate with his name. This was for the first few days of school so she could learn everyone's names. When it came time to write his name, he stated that it was Griff.

Not the careful well thought out name we chose, but Griff.

The teacher looked at me in confusion. I quickly cleared up the confusion by stating his real name. But this was not the end to the renaming games.

A group of my oldest son's friends came to work on a school project and bellowed at him "Jex, are you coming?"


That wasn't what his family has been calling him.

Not to be outdone, my daughter is now known to her friends as "Zoe".

I admire my children's independence and spirit. In fact, I think my husband and I should join this game.

This year we will wish people a Merry Christmas from Laurel and Hardy and their three children, Griff, Zoe and Jex.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Playing the Game

We have this little game we play when we talk long distance with our relatives. It's called one upmanship with the weather and everyone wins so it's a great game. The conversation goes something like this.

Me: What's the weather like?
Relative: Oh, it's so cold here that absolute zero is close at hand.
Me: Hahaha we're warmer and loving it....or hahahahah we're colder!
Relative: Well, hahaha we're sunnier, rainier or whatever-ier!

Either way, both of us win because when there are only two places, one place has to be warmer and one place has to be colder. One party consoles them self with better weather and the other party with more noble suffering.

It's been a fun game.


My in laws purchased a cottage on a mountaintop. It's not really a mountain top, but compared to their home in a hot dessert valley, it's a virtual Swiss Heidi hide away.

Now the conversation plays out like this:

Me: What's the weather like?
Relative: Well it's so hot that my dashboard melted.
Me: Here it's so cold that our youngest froze to the dashboard....
Relative: HA! In the mountains it's even colder and we couldn't yodel.
Me: Oh.

What do you say? I'm neither the noble sufferer nor the better weather girl.

I need a new game.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Element of Surprise

The great thing about blogging is that I learn from so many other blogs. In turn, I'd like to pass on some hard won knowledge.

I was unaware that some manufacturers state to not put aluminum foil in the bottom of the oven but why? Gather around and I’ll tell you a story about one reason why.

Yesterday, I was cooking corn bread at a ridiculously high heat when….

…a zapping sound and bright light emitted from the oven. The light wasn’t the oven light... as that had conked out long ago. I opened the oven door to see a geyser of sparks shooting up from the element and a billow of smoke wafting out of the oven. I yelled for my hubby as I shut off the oven, turned on the exhaust fan and prayed that nothing would catch fire forcing me to use the extinguisher.

(An extinguisher used on an oven renders it completely unusable. There is nothing you can do but replace the oven. A small price to pay for not burning down the house but I prefer to avoid the whole scenario. How do I know this? I have a good friend with experience in this area and I benefit from her experience.)

We looked at each other with eyes as round as saucers. Holy moly, that was scary. Then I asked my husband, Is it dead? Will it spark again if I try to use it?

My husband, being of a curious scientific nature said, Let’s see. The worse that can happen is that the circuit breaker will trip or the oven fuse will blow.

We turned the oven back on and it was dead.

Now I know that if tinfoil in the bottom of the oven touches the element, it can cause a short. A short can cause a fire and ruin your food, your oven and your whole day.

On the bright side, my hubby replaced the element right away and even put in a working oven light.

I’m back in business.


Sparky the Electric Element

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Smokin' in the Baker's Hood

It's another fabulous challenge in the Daring Baker's hood and things were smokin' at my house.

This month's challenge was hosted by the amazing Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups. You can check out the recipe here of Tender Potato Bread. She also has a short clip of kneading the dough which is a great guide for bread baking newbies.

Round 1
I love these challenges and I play with them, much much more than is really wise. The first time I made the potato bread, I absolutely loved it. My downfall was my over confident attitude. Since I make a lot of bread I was very laid back.

The cooked potatoes were put through a ricer and immediately mixed with the hot cooking water. They dissolved to make a smooth consistent loaf. I flavoured the loaf with about two teaspoons of dried dill. The dough was quite sticky so I kneaded the dough directly in my huge stainless steel bowl until it was more firm, then I tranferred it to the counter top.

The rising, falling and shaping of the dough went without a hitch. Then I cooked it.

The top of the focaccia wasn’t very brown so I decided to play with my blowtorch. This is a new toy and oh so impressive in the eyes of my teenage son...

You can see this going wrong on so many levels…

The blowtorch took forever so I put it back in the oven to grill the top for a few minutes. Fast forward a few minutes and I’m yakking on the phone with a friend, my kitchen is full of kids and … is that burning I smell?!

I snatched the bread from the maw of my smokin’ hot oven and sent some over to my friend. Just so she could appreciate the depth and meaning of my shrieking at her over the phone.Round 2
I flavoured the bread with dill and caraway. The riced potatoes were mixed with the cooking water when it was cooler so there were little potato chunks in the bread. No problems. I stayed away from the phone.Round 3
Flavoured with just dill, used riced potatoes and rutabaga. No problems. I stayed away from the phone and watched Desperate Housewives instead.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pumpkin Muffin

These muffins were dense, tasty and flavourful. There are many variations that you can try with the spices. Ginger, cloves, allspice and cinnamon are all great choices for experimentation.

Pumpkin Muffin

2&1/2 cups all purpose flour (625 mL)
1 cup whole wheat flour (250 mL)
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
1 cup sugar (250 mL)
2 tsp cinnamon (10 mL)
1/2 tsp allspice (3 mL)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (3 mL)

3 cups pureed pumpkin (750 mL)
3/4 cup canola oil (180 mL)
2 Tbsp vinegar (30 mL)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius. Line muffin cups or grease with canola oil.

Sift together flours, baking soda, salt, sugar and spices in a large bowl. A sifter will give lighter muffins and these muffins are pretty hearty. If you would like to lighten the texture, add a bit of water. Add combined pureed pumpkin, oil, and vinegar.

Cook for approximately 20 minutes.

Makes about 18 muffins.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chocolate Muffins

I hesitate to underline the fact that this is another vegan recipe. It's a reflection of a terrible attitude because I assume vegan recipes won't be successful or taste good. A vegan labelled recipe is not a selling point for this carnivore because something that virtuous couldn't be good, could it?

So I welcomed the challenge to create good vegan muffins. My family didn't know that the muffins were vegan and they didn't care as they inhaled them. The batters were simple and the ingredients are easily available. I thought I would have to apologize for the quality of the muffins because they were vegan. I was wrong.

I'm stretching the meaning of muffin a bit with this recipe since it has quite a bit of sugar in it. But the whole wheat cancels out a bit of the sugar and it's a bit of wickedness in an otherwise virtuous muffin.

Chocolate Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour (625 mL)
1 cup whole wheat flour (250 mL)
1/2 cup cocoa (125 mL)
2 cups sugar (500 mL)
2 tsp baking soda (10 mL)
1 tsp salt (5 mL)

2 cups water (500 mL)
3/4 cup canola oil (180 mL)
2 Tbsp white vinegar (30 mL)
2 tsp vanilla (10 mL)

1 cup dark chocolate chips (250 mL)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 Celsius. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners or grease with canola oil.

Sift together all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add combined water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Mix until thoroughly blended and add chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared muffin tins and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

Makes 24 muffins.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vegan Muffin Madness

Along came a challenge to bake some vegan muffins and I love a challenge...

Since our family is not vegan, we don't have ingredients that are often substituted for milk and eggs in vegan baking. This recipe requires only the ingredients that I commonly have on hand.

The rum can be substituted with vanilla but the rum gives the muffins an echo of Bananas Foster.

Banana Rum Raisin Muffins

2&1/2 cups all purpose flour (625 mL)
1 cup whole wheat flour (250 mL)
2 tsp baking soda (10 mL)
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
1 cup sugar (250 mL)

2&1/2 cups mashed bananas (625 mL)
3/4 cup canola oil (185 mL)
2 tbsp vinegar (30 mL)
3 tbsp dark rum (45 mL)

1 cup raisins (250 mL)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius. Line muffin cups or grease with canola oil.

Sift together flours, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. A sifter will give a lighter muffins and these muffins are pretty hearty. Add combined mashed bananas, oil, vinegar and rum.

Mix just until combined and add raisins.

Cook for approximately 20 minutes but check after 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Shoo Fly Muffins

My father in law is from the Pennsylvania Dutch area of the United States and he has a few great recipes up his sleeve. The first time I tried shoo fly cake I fell in love with its moist dark flavourful feel. I love molasses and this recipe highlights the molasses flavour.

I've modified the recipe to be vegan but the original requires salted butter instead of shortening and salt. The crumbs are supposed to be put directly into a 9x13 inch pan and the hot liquid added. If you make muffins, you must mix it first then quickly fill the muffin tins.

Shoo Fly Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour (500 mL)
2 cups whole wheat flour (500 mL)
2 cups lightly packed brown sugar (500 mL)
1 cup shortening (250 mL)
1/2 tsp salt (3 mL)
2 cups boiling water (500 mL)
2 tsp baking soda (10 mL)
1 cup fancy molasses (250 mL)
1 tsp vanilla (5 mL)

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius. Line muffin tins with paper liners or grease with shortening.

Mix together all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, shortening and salt to make cake crumbs. Reserve 1/2 cup (125 mL) crumbs for topping.

Mix together boiling water, baking soda, molasses and vanilla. Add to cake crumbs - the mixture will fizz and foam. Quickly fill muffin cups. Sprinkle with reserved cake crumbs. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

Makes 24 muffins.

Creative Process

In art school we all agonized over our creative process.

A group of students built a sculpture out of chicken wire, plaster and various odds and sods from the studio. We weren’t quite sure what it was supposed to be. Neither were the creators very sure about this assignment. They decided to push forward and record their creative process. The students loaded their hefty piece of work onto a truck and drove it to an open field, filming all the way.

Once they unloaded the sculpture, they placed it carefully on the ground. Then they set it on fire.

At the film premiere to the class the teacher optimistically highlighted their creative process.

We all had a good laugh.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


We attended the funeral of a favourite uncle recently.

Unfortunately, cancer had claimed another victim. There have been too many funerals, too many cases of bad news broken over the telephone followed by shocked silence.

This blog was actually inspired by a more serious blog of a friend. She is far away and is also struggling with cancer. Her family had moved just before she was diagnosed. They were in a new country, new city and new community. In order to keep up with family and friends all over the world, her husband started a blog. It was not possible to speak with everyone who cared and concentrate on their struggle.

Because of the wonderful energy my friends give, the new community embraced them and surrounded their family with support. They are so grateful for the love that surrounds them.

In this blog, I am blessed to be able to goof around, burn my buns and laugh at my mistakes. When small things go wrong, I love the laughter it generates. When big things go wrong, I am so very very grateful for the love and support of family and friends.

One of my cousins stated at my uncle’s funeral. This cancer is like French kissing the grim reaper. You’re irresistibly drawn towards him but you just don’t want to go all the way.

We will never stop laughing and loving.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bodice Rippers

Years ago, I was invited by a friend to join a book club.

We gathered at a lovely home and were introduced to each other. Everyone was highly educated, well travelled with demanding careers... I was the only stay at home Mom among them.

We went through suggestions for various books. Some of the titles vetted were A Year in Provence, On Foot Through Africa etc. All interesting books. Our lovely hostess looked around and tentatively suggested that we choose a romance novel or a bodice ripper as we like to call them in our house.

A chorus of boos and nos followed her suggestion.

When my friend and I walked out of the meeting we talked about the books we had been reading. We were catching up on our lives. I had been in Italy for a month and read Italian books voraciously when I was there. In the past month I had read about 30 books. My friends jaw dropped... and then I added... and 28 of them were Harlequin.

She burst out laughing.

Really easy books in Italian are perfect on vacation. I can brush up on my Italian with phrases to my husband like...

Your eyes are green like a stormy sea...(I actually said mould.)

You get the picture. I may not say it perfectly but he's not complaining. These educational aids were surreptitiously tucked into serious literature to avoid teasing from my in laws.

I revealed this secret to my friend, trusting she would understand or at least think it was entertaining. Little did I know, she had her own secret. It turned out that her neighbour had given her old Harlequin novels. My friend had been cracking them open just before bedtime and she stated I've never slept so well.

Other people can say what they like.

I understand.

Monday, October 29, 2007

...and I felt like the Queen of the world until..

Project Bostini day was a gorgeous sun filled time to tackle the latest Daring Bakers challenge chosen by Mary at Alpineberry. The sun was shining. Hubby was doing house fixes - his way of showing me that he loves me. The kids were running in and out and all over the neighbourhood. Perfect day to get down and bake...

... and I felt like the Queen of the World until the wind blew my muffin cups all over the kitchen.

I cracked the windows open to let the breeze ruffle my long Kate Winslet-like locks. *snort*

In my hard won wisdom, I've learned never to mix dry ingredients or sift flour in front of an open window on a windy day. But, I left the paper lined muffin tins basking in the sunlight ready to rock and roll.

After mixing the chiffon I went to fill my cups but they were gone. The wind blew the paper liners all over the kitchen. I panicked thinking that the air would leak out of the batter while I scrambled for more liners. Can't use the ones on the floor; that's just nasty.

I bet Kate Winslet never blew off her muffin cups.

Not a problem. I quickly filled the small cake pan and shoved it into the oven. Then I replaced and filled the muffin cup liners. Holy Batman, there was a lot of batter. Ha, I am not defeated yet, I snatched the hot cake pan from the oven and put more batter into the tin. Not something I'd recommend but if it doesn't work, I'm eating the evidence.

I forgot the directions to strain the custard as I put it into the glasses and dish. But in my top of the world mood I could leap over tall buildings and catch a vanilla bean and I did... catch the bean.

(We offer a reward at my house to the person who gets the "treasure" of the forgotten bay leaf, bean or whatever. It's not much, but the kids don't complain anymore when some detritus shows up in their dish. They just hold out their hands for the cold hard cash reward of two bits.)

However, the straining was really good advice because I wasn't expecting a few little egg curds to plop out at the end. Oh well, protein builds muscle.

Speaking of the eggs, mine seemed to have runty little yolks. It took 5 yolks to make 1/3 cup and only 7 egg whites to make 1 cup. There must be some unhappy hens in this world. Since there wasn't enough yolk or cornstarch to make a firm custard, it was more like a delicious creme anglais. In the future I would tweak the recipe to have a firmer custard. My youngest described it as A drink with a muffin dunked into it.

The orange chiffon "muffin" was delicious. The texture was fantastic and the orange taste sharp enough to stand up to the creamy custard and chocolate sauce. The juicy fragrant oranges were from South Africa (they are better travelled than I am). They zested and juiced beautifully for a perfect pairing of orange and chocolate.

The cake that I snatched out of the oven worked because I poured the excess batter in a circle around the middle and left the cake in the oven a bit longer at a lower temperature. But I still don't recommend doing this because I think it was really luck.

Thank you Mary from Alpineberry. You're building a better baker, one lesson at a time.

Bostini Cream Pie
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
Serving Size: 8 absolutely gigantic servings! Easily makes 16 normal servings.


3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter


To prepare the custard:
Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:
Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not over beat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:
Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rush Hour

Homework. Time management. It's a tussle that every parent loves. I've discovered how my children multi task when they shower by practicing their cursive writing... and some of them practice more than others.

Everyone in the house wants the maximum amount of sleep in the morning. The result is that the shower is in high demand first thing in the morning. We all listen for the squeak of the bathroom door and spring into action to be the next one sliding into the shower.

You would think that there wouldn't be much time to do homework in the bathroom since this is our rush hour.

With a few teenagers in the house, the result of a few long showers at prime time is a steaming bathroom with fog billowing out under the door. The mirror is unusable. Even if you dry it off, the fog in the bathroom rushes to coat the newly cleared surface.

But my children make the best of the situation. They practice their script in big loopy letters all over the mirror. When you take a shower beautifully written words such as "So and so was here" magically appear. I don't want to discourage this practice since I think they're on to something and their script is really gorgeous.

Tomorrow I'm going write on the mirror before they get out of bed "If you can see this, your shower is too long"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Ta da ...

I'm feeling much fonder of my Teflon Canary paint job. It's a little bit of sunshine on this rainy day... but the flashback from the camera will kill ya' if you're not careful!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Teflon Canary to the Rescue

That Teflon Canary paint is amazing. When I impatiently tried to deglaze a smoking hot pan, I had a red wine explosion in the kitchen. The red wine spatter came off the Teflon Canary walls without a backward glance.

It took a little longer to wipe the red wine off the vent hood, tiles, stove and counter.

Oh, shoot. I forgot the floor.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Schiacciata Toscana

When were in a little seaside town in Tuscany, a restaurant at the beach made a flat bread with ham and cheese cooked into the center. The crunchy top was fragrant with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Everyone would eagerly wait for the lunch time batch to be ready. Slices wrapped in paper would be handed out and we would gingerly hold the hot bread while nibbling at the cooler edges.

It took a long time to recreate this dish to our satisfaction. The dough has to be rolled thin so the crust is thin and crunchy. The ham that works the best is a black forest style ham that is thinly sliced. The cheese can be thick and ooze out to greet you or thin and subtle. A baking stone works best to give a crunchy bottom crust but it isn't really necessary. Sea salt wasn't easily available years ago so we substituted coarse pickling salt.

Schiacciata Toscana
(skee-ah-chat-ah - means flattened)

1&1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1&1/2 tsp instant yeast
3&1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil

3/4 lb thinly slice Black forest style ham
3/4 lb thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for top
1 tsp coarse salt for top

1 large baking sheet or pan 9x13 to 10x15. A baking stone makes the baking time longer and a tin sheet makes the time shorter. Check the Schiacciata after 15 minutes. The top and bottom should be a nice golden brown when it's time to remove it from the oven.

Mix water, sugar, salt, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 cups of flour until it forms a smooth paste. Mix in the yeast. Let the mixture sit until the yeast is bubbling. This will take about five minutes, but if you're busy and you give it more time, don't worry about it.

Mix in the rest of the flour a little at a time. Mix and knead until the dough is a soft and slightly sticky. The dough will pull away slightly from the walls of the bowl but will not form a solid clump. The dough will stick to your finger if you poke it. You may need to add a bit more flour.

Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to grease the sides of the bowl. Scoop the dough from the bowl and roll it around so it is covered in oil. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. (You can make the dough the day before and put it in the fridge. Just bring it to room temperature before trying to work with the dough.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease the baking sheet. Divide the dough in half and carefully roll out to form a thin sheet. Place the dough on the baking sheet. If the dough over hangs the edges or is too thick, trim carefully. Place a layer of the thin slices of ham followed by a thin layer of cheese. Roll out the other half of the dough and place carefully on top. Trim any thick or overhanging edges. Pinch the edges together to keep the cheese from oozing out of the Schiacciata.

Pour 1 tbsp of olive oil on top and spread smoothly. Sprinkle the coarse the salt over the top. You can let it rest at this point for 15 minutes or pop it directly into the oven.

Cook on center rack for about 25 minutes.

* Prosciutto does not work well in the Schiacciata because it becomes tough when cooked.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teflon Canary

Did you ever notice that a popular colour for kitchen walls is yellow?

Finally, I moved from white walls in my kitchen to a colour. I selected a vibrant yellow but I thought I'd add a twist to my ordinary kitchen. I would fresco it with white and work it into an inviting subtle pattern. Boy, this was going to be sophisticated.

The previous paint was oil base so we went with another oil base paint. Semi gloss. A little bit of sheen but not too much shine... I thought. At least that is how it works out with latex paint. Besides, I pointed out to my hubby, oil paint is much easier to clean.

Did you know that oil paint has a much higher shine facter than latex?

I can't help running my hands along the wall when I enter the kitchen since I've never felt such a smooth shiny wall. The fact that I can check my makeup in the reflection is just an added bonus.

We call that yellow oil paint the Teflon Canary because nothing will ever stick to it.

We have a lot of leftover Teflon Canary if anyone is interested.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Creamy Celery Soup

Celery is one of those ubiquitous vegetables that is the understudy in a meal. Celery builds a base for dishes but it doesn't often take center stage. This soup takes advantage of the profusion of celery at the market. Cream isn't necessary to give this soup a smooth texture.

Creamy Celery Soup

3 tablespoons butter (45 mL)
6 cups thinly sliced celery (1.5 L)
1 cup minced onions (250 mL)
1&1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (8 mL)

Celery leaves
2 cups sliced potatoes, peeled (500 mL)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
6 cups GF chicken broth (1.5 L)

Salt and pepper.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, onions and fennel seed. Cover and cook until very tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Stir in celery leaves, potatoes, and garlic. Add broth; cover and simmer until all vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Puree in blender in batches. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

* Optional: Add cream to thicken or add more broth to thin if necessary. Serve with a dollop of heavy cream, sour cream or croutons on top.

This recipe can be made 1 day ahead.

Cover and chill.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pumpkin Custard

When I discovered the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks, it was a revelation. I didn't know anything about vegetarian cooking but I easily followed the recipes. The food was delicous. This recipe is from the award winning recipe book Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites. My family loved the creamy consistency of the custard.

Pumpkin Custard

This recipe does not unmold easily so it's better to serve it straight from the ramekin.

2 cups cooked pureed pumpkin, (1/2L)
1&1/2 cups evaporated skimmed milk (375 mL)
2 eggs
3 egg whites
3/4 cup maple syrup or brown sugar (185 mL)
1 tsp cinnamon (5 mL)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (2.5 mL)
1/2 tsp ginger (2.5 mL)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare eight 6 ounce baking cups with a light coat of cooking spray. (oh oh, I think I just understood why it wasn't so easy to unmold) Place cups in shallow flat bottomed pan.

Whirl all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into cups. Pour boiling water around the cups into the shallow pan. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate.

Serve chilled.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Today is Canadian Thanksgiving and our family has a tradition of giving thanks before every meal.

At the beginning of a meal the French say Bon Appetit. (I can't think of that phrase without hearing Julia Child's voice in my head)

The Italian say Buon Appetito and everyone responds Grazie, altre tanto which is Thanks, and back at ya'

But what do we say in English? In English we have choices; but Rub a dub dub, dig into the grub doesn't seem very sophisticated. Our English speaking family would say grace at large holiday gatherings but it didn't always fit every situation. Saying grace didn't translate well when we had friends or colleagues over for a meal since more often than not, they were of different faiths.

When it was just my husband and I breaking bread and beaning each other over the noggin with it, we would use Italian. Ahhh, the joy of newly weds. But that didn't work for non Italians. It also didn't work well when we had children since all the food fight fun had to be curtailed.

We needed something that would involve and teach our children the habit of being thankful that we could use in every circumstances and in every language. So every evening before we begin supper we say grace. Our grace includes everyone saying two things that they are thankful for. We have to limit it, otherwise the youngest goes on... and on... and on.

He has a pretty great life.

This Thanksgiving I am very thankful for two things. I am thankful for good friends. Good friends who have rescued my family from the turkey curse by inviting us over for a Thanksgiving meal. I'm thankful for my newly painted kitchen that was totally out of commission so I did not have to cook this weekend.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


One day I was at a friend's house that was decorated in black and white, chrome and glass. It was a striking gorgeous decor. Furniture and art were artfully placed to create a calm energy. Fabulous wine was poured and contemplated.

This was a very different aesthetic sense to friends in Italy. Their house was an old converted farmhouse with exposed beams, tiled floors and family around every corner. The kitchen had open cupboards. The center island had focaccia with rosemary under tea towels. The stove top was full of simmering pots as the dishwasher relentlessly chugged away to provide the place settings for the next meal. We were expecting 15 to 20 people for supper. Grandchildren peeked around the corner and were welcomed with open and floury arms. The smell of cooking, herbs and puffs of flour were in the air. It was a striking earthy atmosphere.

These two scenes crossed my mind when I was photographing some of the food I had made. If you look closely at my pictures, the full blown photo shows scratches on the wooden bowl, bumps on the apples and marks on the tabletop.

I aspire to the first style but my life gives me the second style. One style inspires me and the other comforts me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Barbarian Torte

My children love this Apple Bavarian Torte. When my daughter was little she couldn't get her tongue around the name, so she dubbed it Apple Barbarian Torte and that is the dessert's affectionate name in our house. The recipe originally came from a Kraft cheese pamphlet that has disappeared in the mists of time.

There is a creamy thin layer of cheesecake between the buttery shortbread crust and the overlapping cinnamon sugared apples. The crisp Autumn apples are at their peak right now and this dish plays up their taste.

Apple Bavarian Torte

Serves 8 to 10.

1/2 cup butter (125 mL)
1/3 cup white sugar (80 mL)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (1 mL - don't worry about adding a little more)
1 cup all purpose flour (250 mL) (0 type)

1 package cream cheese at room temperature(250 gr or about 1/2 pound)
1/4 cup sugar (60 mL)
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (2.5 mL)


1/3 cup sugar (80 mL)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (2.5 mL)
4 cups peeled sliced apples, depending on the size - about 3 apples (granny smith, MacIntosh - tart firm apples that hold their shape work best)
1/4 cup sliced almonds, optional (60 mL)

Combine butter, sugar & vanilla. Blend in flour. Spread and press dough on bottom and 1 inch up the sides of 9 inch springform pan.

Beat cream cheese & sugar until well blended. Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Spread evenly over the crust.

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Toss apple in sugar mixture. Place in pinwheel pattern over cream cheese layer. Sprinkle with almonds.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 375 F and continue baking 25 minutes longer. Cool on wire rack. Chill 3 hours before serving.

Note: This torte freezes well and the recipe is very forgiving. Friends have used low fat cream cheese or marscapone. I've used different sized pans and I'm very casual about the exact measurements. So, don't worry how big your egg should be ... unless it's a quail egg...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Last Turkey Stand

...did I mention the time we had to order Chinese takeout because the turkey wasn't ready for hours... and hours...?

The guests left with fresh turkey takeout at 11:00pm.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Turkey Tales Two

The last time I attempted turkey was a over year ago on the eve of my sister in laws wedding. We were on a rotating cook schedule devised by my mother-in-law. Since I have experience in cooking for crowds, I grabbed the wedding eve spot.

Turkey was the decision.

The night before turkey day, we pulled the semi frozen turkey out of the bar fridge to assess the state of thaw. It was still solid so we left it on top of the fridge for a short time.

Everyone was in a tizzy of activity and I forgot to check the turkey. In fact, everyone forgot the turkey. Until the next day when it was time to put it in the oven.

The house was deserted. One of my mother in laws friends was with me when we realized that the turkey had been left on top of the fridge...

all night...

all day yesterday...

half the morning...

The outside of the turkey was room temperature. The inside of the turkey was room temperature. Our eyes met. Oh fudge!

It was a perfect set up to kill the wedding party and half the family. I was finally going to kill someone with a turkey! I am in so much trouble. (This is an Italian family I married into.)

I panicked and sent my husband out shrieking "Buy chickens, buy chickens!"

This was the final revised menu.

Oven Roasted Chickens
Hazelnut Cranberry Wild Rice
Scalloped Potatoes with Cream
Green Salad dressed with EVOO and Balsamic vinegar
Marsala Poached Pears with Cinnamon Stick, Vanilla and Orange

No one was the wiser except my mother-in-law. Thank goodness I have an understanding Italian mother-in-law.

She really appreciates when someone doesn't poison her.

...and I make a mean roast chicken.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Turkey Curse

Canadian Thanksgiving is looming over my family and I am in a panic. I am a turkey impaired cook.

I've made several attempts to cook a turkey and I've never succeeded beyond edible.

My history is not promising.

My first attempt to cook turkey was initiated as a ploy to create a homy meal for my (then) boyfriend and a bunch of friends. We were at university and in my naivete' I thought a turkey supper was just the thing to have us all feel at home.

It would be a breeze.

After all, what did my parents do? They woke up at some ungodly hour, stuffed a turkey and shoved it in the oven for endless hours.....

No problem.

My boyfriend bought the turkey. We unwrapped it, shoved in the oven and left. For hours... just like Mom.

When we returned there was an eerie turkey skeleton in the oven surrounded by chunks of stringy meat. All the meat had fallen off the carcass in a desperate attempt to escape the heat of the oven. There wasn't even juice for gravy. My room mate saved the day and scavenged some bouillion cubes to make desperately needed chicken/beef gravy. Without grease for our gullet that turkey lodged in our throats.

I'm not one to shy away from a challenge and I realized that I didn't have the knowledge to tackle turkey. My next attempt was with my mother at hand. I was a newlywed in a new apartment and I offered to host Thanksgiving. This didn't seem too ambitious since my mother was with me and she would be guiding my every attempt. We prepped and stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven. Smug was how I felt. Nothing could go wrong.

Soon the smell of turkey was wafting through the apartment. Ahh, bliss.

Soon after that, the smell of burnt turkey was wafting through the apartment. We rushed to the oven and snatched the burnt/raw turkey out of the oven's maw. After some desperate consultation and problem solving we lowered the oven temperature by 100 degrees and shoved the half and half bird back into the oven. We crossed our fingers. That night, we scraped off the edible turkey portions and discarded the carbon at the bottom of the pan.

The oven was calibrated 90 degrees too hot.

For years afterward, I foisted myself on various relatives for my turkey fix and I practiced on chicken.

Until I had children.

Once again I invited family to a Thanksgiving feast. I asked someone to put the turkey in the oven while I was out of the apartment. Could they put a little salt on the turkey? Salt created a lovely crisp skin for chicken and it would be my crowning glory to have a crisp lovely brown skin on my turkey. Brilliant idea I thought.

Handfuls of salt were generously applied to the turkey.

The result was another mummified turkey. There were no OXO cubes to save me and we were in desperate straits... That year we resorted to buttering the meat in order to swallow it.

What followed were years of so-so turkey suppers at my place and really great ones everywhere else.

I'm nothing if not persistent. Stubborn even.

I invited friends over for a Monday Thanksgiving brunch. I would cook the turkey the day before and lay the slices on platters for the buffet. All of my attention was focused on cooking the perfect turkey on Sunday... and I did it! The turkey was perfect. Juicy, tender. It was absolutely lovely. Sunday night my family had a few measley turkey scraps because I saved the prime pieces for my platters.

I was so proud. Every once and a while I would peek under the foil to gaze upon my turkey platter perfection. This felt just great.

Monday morning dawned and I sighed in pleasant anticipation. One last peek at the platter before my guests arrived in 45 minutes. What's this? There were silver speckles all over the turkey. The foil was pitted and had disintegrated over the slices.


I had polished some silver the day before and a bit of polish must have gotten on the wet counter. The foil sheets I had laid out for the platters must have had touched the water.

One. Entire. Turkey. In the garbage.

This Thanksgiving weekend my family is hoping to eat chicken.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daring Bakers Buns

I am officially part of the Daring Bakers ! The Daring Bakers is a group of curious, friendly and ambitious bakers who tackle a different baking challenge each month. They are a fountain of knowledge and an amazing resource.

I’ve always loved baking bread and working with yeast. So this month’s challenge was a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge. Thank you to Marce from Pip in the City for choosing the Sticky Buns/Cinnamon Buns recipe from the Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The recipe is posted on Marce's blog.

First, these sticky buns have zero shelf life in my house. They disappeared in under 24 hours. What would they be like if they actually stayed more than 24 hours? My family will never know.

This recipe had lemon zest which gave these buns a special edge. There was an added brightness and intrigue in the flavour which everyone in the family loved. My glaze was not as firm as I would have liked but that problem could be solved by placing the glass baking dish on the lowest rack in the oven...

...sigh, just like the recipe suggested...

Sticky Bun Bottoms

These are the bottoms before the buns are flipped. Notice the glaze percolating at the corners of the buns.

The buns were a technical challenge to photograph with only the flash bouncing off the glaze. I'm not satisfied with the contrast since it makes the raisins look like black bugs. I would have photographed them in natural light but my buns didn't see the light of day...

... but they were absolutely over the top delicious!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Epicurious is a fantastic website with an extensive recipe data base. One of the most helpful features is the review section. The feedback from readers and fellow cooks guides me when I'm attempting a new recipe.

This Lemon Olive Oil Cake was originally in Gourment magazine and is now posted on the Epicurious website. I've tweaked it a bit to intensify the flavour and I've even baked a version with fresh oranges. But, we ate that one very quickly and there are no photos!

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

¾ olive oil (Extra virgin olive will give a stronger olive oil flavour)
3 lemons
3 tsps of lemon zest
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1&1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 large eggs, separated
½ tsp salt
¾ cup white sugar
1&1/2 tablespoons white sugar to sprinkle on top of uncooked cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil springform pan, line bottom with parchment and oil parchment.

Finely grate lemon zest to obtain 3 teaspoons.

Beat egg whites with salt until foamy. Add ¼ cup sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until the egg whites hold soft peaks. (If you beat the yolks first, you have to wash and dry the beaters in between. Save time, beat the whites first since yolks don’t mind a little white.)

Beat yolks and 1/2 cup sugar at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce speed and add olive oil, lemon zest and 1&1/2 tablespoons lemon juice. Beating until just combined – mixture may look separated. Use a wooden spoon to fold in the flour mixture until just combined.

Gently fold one third of egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten. Then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1&1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a skewer comes out clean, about 45 min – 40 min in 10 inch springform pan.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 min, then run a thin knife around the edge and remove from pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1&1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer to serving plate.

Cake can be made one day ahead and wrapped well or stored in a cake keeper at room temperature.

Serve with fresh fruit or baked pears and cream.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Looks Like Chicken

That's what my husband said when I pulled this dish out of the oven ... not quite the aim of this dessert, ugh.

No, it's not a plate of chicken but pears baked with a homemade grape/wine syrup.

Pears are one of my favourite fruits. They are rock hard in the grocery store, but with some patience and time, they ripen beautifully into juicy tasty treats. My children will gobble the pears like candy when they are perfectly ripe but they refuse to take them on their lunch. It isn't appetizing to reach into a lunch bag and extract a sweet slimy mass of crushed pear.

Although the perfectly ripe pear is a treat itself, I prefer baking with the rock hard pears. They absorb flavours beautifully over a long cooking time. I baked these pears in a grape and red wine syrup with lemon and cinnamon. The intense flavour jumped in your mouth.

The grapes for the syrup were off of our vine and I practically wrestled them out of the greedy paws of the raccoons. As a result, I harvested them earlier than I would have preferred and the grapes needed a big bump of sugar to render the syrup palatable.

Baked Pears with Grape Syrup
Pere al Forno con Sapa

2 rock hard bosc pears, peeled, cored and quartered (you know, so they look like chicken drumsticks)
juice of 2 lemons
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

1 recipe Fresh Grape Syrup

Put lemon juice in plastic bag and place pear quarters inside. The lemon juice will protect them from browning. When you remove the pears to place them in the pan don't pour the extra juice into the pan... too much pucker.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter 9x13 dish. Arrange the pears spoon fashion in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and lemon zest.

Bake the pears four about one hour. Baste every 20 minutes with Fresh Grape Syrup. When the pears are easily pierced with a knife, remove them from the oven.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fresh Grape Syrup
4&1/2 pounds red flavourful grapes, with or without seeds
1 cup dry red wine
Sugar, if you suffer from sour grapes

Wash, stem and process grapes until finely chopped. Place crushed grapes into a glass or stainless steel container. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. Strain the grapes through a sieve and press out as much liquid as possible. Boil the grapes uncovered for about 20 to 30 minutes until thickened or reduced. It will foam with large bubbles. Blend in wine and boil 1 minute (to boil off the alcohol).

You can bottle and keep the syrup in the freezer.

The original and detailed recipes are from the fabulous recipe book The Splendid Table by Lynn Rosetto Kasper

FYI It didn't taste like chicken either.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yeast Farts

Baking bread is something I've always loved. Maybe I haven't been the greatest baker but it's a great way to take a break when working at home. Stop. Punch some dough. Go back to work.

I once prepared a huge whack of focaccia for a friend's wedding.

As I was proofing the yeast for the umpteenth batch, I noticed a hideous smell coming from the yeast. It stunk. Had this happened in the previous batches? I hadn't noticed.

I called the 1-800 number and asked what to do? I was in the middle of making a ton of bread and now my yeast smelt like an old tennis shoe! The 1-800 lady started talking about the osmotic properties of yeast. What?!

Okay, I have some chemistry in my background and I know the meaning of osmotic properties of yeast.*

*Put quick rising yeast in water and the yeast cells become waterlogged, explode and die. The cell walls are delicate and need flour in order to shore them up. No, this is not scientific explanation of osmosis but this is all you need to know for yeast. Quick rising yeast needs flour.

But that had nothing to do with stinky sock smell emitting from my bubbling live yeast.

There was no explanation and the 1-800 lady assured me that the bread would be fine after I baked it. It was. The smell had been baked right out of the yeast.

She may not have had an explanation but I know.

It was yeast farts ..

... and dead yeast doesn't fart.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Spicy Tomato Soup

Even though Autumn has not yet arrived, I've already been hit with my first snivelling croaky cold. I'm not good at reclining on a sick bed - I'm generally whiny and self absorbed when faced with a runny nose.

Yeah, my universe shrinks to me.

Since I can't even stand myself, I search for the fastest route to health. This soup is my family's answer to a cold. Maybe it doesn't really work; but it helps me focus on something else. One box of tissues later and a batch of this spicy soup, I'm in the clear.

Spicy Tomato Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil, 15 mL
2 cups GF chicken broth, 500 mL
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 tsp sugar, 5 mL
2 tablespoons minced hot pepper or a generous pinch of hot pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz can diced plum tomatoes with juice, 1L

½ tsp ground cumin, 2.5 mL
½ tsp black pepper, 2.5 mL

Italian parsley (optional)

Salt to taste

Heat oil. Stir in onion, red pepper and hot pepper and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and heat until fragrant but not brown. Stir in tomatoes, juice, broth, sugar, cumin and pepper.

Stir in Italian parsley just before serving. You can serve it with a mix of sour cream and cilantro for a fresh clean taste.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Allergy Challenged Baking

School has started and with it comes the challenge of packing a healthy lunch that won't kill my children's classmates. We received a flurry of notes about severe allergies in the classroom with nuts and peanut butter being the main offenders. However, we've also received notes about fish, kiwi, dairy and egg.

This recipe is for Quellia. I use this recipe as a base for cupcakes or any other treats that I send to school. I've adapted it to make a banana cake after I realized I was inundated with over ripe bananas and there were no eggs in the house. In the adaptation, I would reduce the banana a bit and add oil to maintain a moister texture. But, the chemistry works, it's a healthy snack and no one gets hurt.

Chocolate World Cocoa Cake

3 cups unsifted all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 tsp vanilla

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Beat 3 minutes and medium speed until thoroughly blended. Pour batter into a grease and floured 9x13x2 inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes or until baked.

Cool. Frost as desired.

Banana Cake

3 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 cups mashed bananas
1 cup raisins
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 tsp rum flavouring

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add bananas and flavouring. Beat 3 minutes and medium speed until thoroughly blended. Pour batter into a grease and floured 9x13x2 inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes or until baked.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Deer Lips

Not moose lips, but we couldn't resist.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Roasted Eggplant Soup

Eggplant is a favourite vegetable of mine but it's not easy to cook. Sometimes it can be bitter and if the skin is left intact - well, it can remind you of moose lips. Epicurious has a fabulous recipe for a roasted eggplant soup. It was flavourful, smooth and deep. The addition of Landini brand white truffle oil elevated the soup to new heights. (No, no one pays me to say that but they are welcome to send some!)

Roasted Eggplant Soup

3 medium roma tomatoes, halved
1 large eggplant or two small ones (about 1 1/2 pounds - 650 gr), halved lengthwise
1 small onion, halved
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 30 mL
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, 15 mL or 1 teaspoon dried, 5 mL
4 cups (or more) chicken stock, 1 L
1 cup heavy cream, 250 mL

Salt and pepper to taste
Truffle oil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F. Put all the vegetables in a plastic bag and pour in the olive oil. Squish it around so everything is coated then put all the vegetables on a large baking sheet. There should be no vegetables overlapping each other.

Roast until the vegetables are tender and brown in spots, about 45 minutes. Check the vegetables about every 15 minutes to turn them or remove if they are too cooked. There will be a lovely roasted smell from the tomatoes, eggplant and garlic when they are ready.

Remove from oven. Scoop eggplant from skin into heavy large saucepan; discard skin. Squeeze the garlic out of it's peel. Remove the the skins from the tomatoes and discard. If the onion has burned a bit, cut off or remove the burnt layers. Burnt onion or garlic will give a bitter taste to your soup.

Add the roasted vegetables and thyme to same saucepan. Add 4 cups chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until the onion is very tender, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to saucepan. Stir in cream. Bring to simmer, thinning with more stock if desired. Season soup with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with a dash of truffle oil and sprig of fresh thyme.

Serves 4.

The epicurious version of Roasted Eggplant Soup can be found here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bacon Soap

This is just too good to pass up. One of my friends laughed at me and my comments about bacon fat. But, if she's not careful, this will be her Christmas gift.

Bacon soap ... I love it!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Moose Lips

My lunch lately has consisted of sandwiches with grilled vegetables. Grilled zucchini and eggplant with fresh tomatoes. They are very summery sandwiches. I opened my lunch yeasterday and you know what two grilled eggplant slices look like when they hang out of the sandwich?

Moose lips.

Moose lips have been on my mind lately.

I read Hilary Clintons biography, which I enjoyed immensely. She wrote about the time she attended a Russian dinner and was served a soup with gelatinous moose lips floating in the broth. She wrote "I tasted a lot of unusual food for my country, but I drew the line at moose lips” She couldn't eat the moose lips for her country ... or for Boris Yeltsin.

After that passage, my dreams had been filled with wormy looking purply lips floating in my lunch time soup.

But, unlike Hilary Clinton, I know that I could eat moose lips for my country. After all I've practiced on eggplant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Zucchini Heaven

I am awash in a sea of zucchini. It is a modern miracle because no zucchini has followed me home from the grocery store recently and my garden is a barren wasteland thanks to some fat neighbourhood raccoons. My suspicions are turning to some of the most kind generous and sneaky neighbours on this side of the Rockies.

After some long lazy summer days, we had been chatting with our neighbours and catching up with each other’s lives. In one of these casual conversations I innocently mentioned that my family and I love zucchini. Not long afterward zucchini began anonymously appearing on my doorstep. One behemoth weighed five pounds! We are thinking of saving it for Halloween and carving it instead of a pumpkin or adopting it as the youngest member of our family.

There are only two approaches to cooking zucchini. The first is a favourite among zucchini lovers. It not only enhances zucchini flavour, it puts zucchini on centre stage. The secret is to brown, grill or fry the zucchini at high heat and salt it so the flavour is accented. The second approach is the slight of hand where you sneak grated zucchini into other dishes and deny that it ever existed.

Zucchini gratin, zucchini fritters, stuffed zucchini and battered zucchini cause my family to drool with anticipation. Chocolate zucchini cake, zucchini muffins and chili with zucchini are my way of making healthy food that I’m sure my children appreciate. To be honest, I’m forced by the sheer magnitude of the zucchini wave lapping at my doorstep to invent new and interesting ways to serve zucchini. I’m resorting to sneaking it into every dish and hoping that no one notices.

As he was handing over a few zucchini, one of my neighbours admitted to me that his opinion of cows has been elevated to new levels since he discovered that…NOT EVEN COWS WILL EAT ZUCCHINI…. since he is obviously not a zucchini lover, I sent my daughter over with chocolate zucchini cake in an anonymous brown paper bag marked with a big “Z”. We also have new neighbours moving into their home this week. I’m thinking it would be mighty neighbourly of me to share the bounty.

For others in zucchini distress, I’m including one of our favourite methods of serving zucchini. Feel free to experiment as much as you like; zucchini is a forgiving palette. Just make sure your oil is at the right temperature and fries everything to a golden colour.

Zucchini Fritters

1 lb of grated zucchini 1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder 2 chopped green onions
Handful of fresh sage – chopped (whatever herb you like best)
1 egg

oil for frying
wedges of lemon

Mix together the first six ingredients. Pour oil to a 1 cm depth into frying pan and heat on the stove top. Test the oil temperature by putting in a small drop of zucchini batter. If bubbles form around the mixture and it puffs and becomes golden; your oil is hot enough. Drop dollops of zucchini into the oil and flatten them slightly to make small patties. Turn over once they are golden on the bottom. When they are golden brown, remove them to drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle them with salt and serve with wedges of lemon.

If you are wondering, yes, I still love zucchini. I’m thankful for each one that appears on my doorstep. However, just in case anyone is interested, what I REALLY love is seafood and chocolate.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Greek Zucchini Salad

August really should be zucchini month because they multiple like rabbits and appear spontaneously.

Greek Zucchini Salad

4 small zucchini
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped finely
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Small clove garlic, finely minced or crushed
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese or strong salty cheese such as pecorino
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut zucchini into paper thin slices. It helps if you have a mandolin but just watch your fingers if you don't. Combine lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Drizzle over the slices of zucchini. Garnish with mint. Toss to combine. Add feta cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper to adjust seasonings.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pita Footballs

A Year in Bread is a fantastic website dedicated to baking bread. Three bakers provide recipes and gentle teasing of each other over each recipe. It makes bread baking accessible. I've been neglecting to make any bread from the website lately because the heat and humidity are overwhelming. We have no air conditioning and my baking is limited by my families tolerance to heat.

Besides, since I followed the recipe for Bacon Buns from the website I've run out of bacon fat.

But I haven't run out of stories and since A Year in Bread is asking for bread stories here is one of my first experiences with bread baking.

I have been baking bread, well experimenting for a long time. My parents indulged my cooking experiments with the hope that each experiment would be better than the previous one. The first bread recipe I remember trying was for pita bread. How I even came across the recipe is a mystery. I had never seen a pita. Nonetheless, the recipe seemed very clear and I worked my way through the directions.

Everything was going swimmingly. The dough seemed easy enough to work. In the oven the bread cooked beautifully and puffed with hot air. When I took them out of the oven, I piled them on a platter. It was a little difficult since they were still puffed and would skitter off each other. Naively I thought they would eventually deflate. I left the platter in the middle of the table for everyone to admire.

My father came home and looked at the pile of puffy pita and said "What is that?" The pitas never flattened. They were still a high pile of hollow pita footballs. By this time the pitas were crispy and hard just like delicate hollowed out Easter eggs.

My pitas may have been a storage nightmare but if you carefully burrowed a hole in one without shattering it, they were easy to fill.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lime Roasted Corn on the Cob

Corn season is here and we are enjoying corn on the cob from the local farmers market. Corn season where I lived as a child meant "Corn Roasts". There would be huge pots of furiously boiling water and a stream of fresh corn cobs plunged into the water and fished out onto paper plates. It would be served steaming with a generous dollop of butter then sprinkled with salt and pepper. There was also a side of cold beer. But I was just a kid and beer wasn't on my menu.

The droopy plate was carried back to the picnic table; all the kids did their best not to let the steaming cob roll over the edge and onto the ground. We would alternate the fingertips that held the cob so each finger would be scalded in turn. A water and butter mixture dripped down to our elbows. Every bite would leave corn stuck between our teeth.

The years that I had braces were agony for me.

My husband was surprised when he came to Canada since like many Europeans, they considered corn on the cob food for animals. But now he appreciates it just as much as I do. He loves his cob slathered in butter. Since I'm an adult now I have my corn cob roasted and served with a wedge of lime and side of Corona.

Lime Roasted Corn on the Cob

1 lime cut into wedges
Sea salt, pepper
Corn on the cob, left in the husk

Oven mitts!!!!

Soak the unhusked corn, in a bucket of water or sink full of water. Light your barbecue and put the wet corn directly onto the grill. The husk will prevent the corn from burning and becoming tough. You must remember to turn the cobs since it is still possible to burn the corn. The husks will dry out and blacken. Check one of the cobs by opening slightly. Remove from the heat and leave in the husk until you are ready to serve. They will stay warm in the husk for a few minutes.

Rub a wedge of lime on the corn and sprinkle with salt.

Put another lime wedge in your Corona and enjoy.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Raccoon Plumbing ... Plumming

No plums this year. This poor tree has been decimated by raccoons once again.

Almost every evening last week a family of raccoons would amble up to our sliding patio door. They would peer into the glass and chirrup for a bit of supper. When they spied us coming to the door they would come closer but we would chase them away. Raccoons are cute but very destructive. Besides, they are not very discriminating gourmands. They will just as readily dive into an unattended a garbage can as rush to watch us smoking our barbecue.

So the raccoons were pretty miffed because we weren't providing take out meals. They weren't used to be given the cold shoulder. I suspect that a few people think they are really cute and toss them a few victuals. Hence, the raccoons turned their attention to our poor plum tree.

Last year when we came home from vacation our tree looked as if a mad hacker had cut off a third of the branches. The cuts were so sharp I even asked my neighbour if he had been trimming our tree at night. That's not such a strange request since our neighbour is very skillful with the hedge trimmers. Skillful yes but nuts no.

The idea of raccoons chomping on the branches never crossed my mind. Until one night I heard loud chewing. I grabbed the spotlight and pointed it toward the tree. Raccoons were swinging from the branches, chewing the branches and dropping them to the ground. Once the branches dropped, the racccoons would eat the fruit off the branches from the ground.

This year I hoped it would be different. But the tree was battered once again. You would think I could pick the plums before they were eaten but they weren't ripe.

I hope they get the runs.

I apologized to my neighbour.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Let's Play Tag

I've been tagged by Bliss and Vinegar and I jumped in saying Yes! Of course I'll play! I'm always up for some fun and some of the random facts that other bloggers post are really funny.

... but, ahem, I didn't know how to play so it's taken me a bit of time to get everything together. So here are the rules first than the facts, nothing but the facts...


1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.

2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

3. People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Eight Random Facts

1. The day I vowed to learn Italian was the day my mother in law spoke Italian in front of me. It was Christmas and she was discussing my Christmas gift with her family. Since I understand Italian today I tell her that she can talk behind my back like any good mother in law should.

2. I will try any new food once. Except bugs. Can't do bugs.

3. I love the smell of cigars since it reminds me of my grandfather.

4. Since I'm Canadian I'm bilingual. I speak metric and imperial.

5. After Art school, I studied two years of chemistry and the experiments I remembered were the ones that related to food.

6. In the past year and a half, I've seen 7 live moose. Before that, I had only seen one. Every time I see one I think it's pretty cool even for a Canadian.

7. Before I was thirty I had never seen a soccer game. The first time I played soccer I didn't know you couldn't touch the ball with your hands. This could have been funny and maybe charming if I had been five years old ... but I was thirty. It wasn't cute and it wasn't hockey.

8. My husband used to affectionately call me "Ciccia". When I learned to speak Italian I discovered Ciccia meant chubby. I punched him in the arm.


Here are a few blogs that I've been reading and I hope they'll play too.

Apron Strings and Simmering Things

Basting Away in Margaritaville

I Spend Most of My Life in the Kitchen

When My Soup Came Alive

Food Destination

What's On My Plate

A Taste of Tina

Dinner A' Deux

Monday, July 30, 2007

Smokin' Barbecue

It's barbecue season and my husband is a whiz with the barbecue. Our barbecue is over 15 years old. It's quite well seasoned and efficient since anything that stands within 15 feet of the lit barbecue smells like smoke. Smoke is so summery, so laid back. It adds to the overall coordination of the meal because whatever we serve is smoke seasoned. I love it.

But I think my neighbours are of a different opinion.

Even though we're very enthusiastic about smokey flavours I had grave concerns about our smokin' barbecue. After the barbecue was turned off, smoke would continue to billow skywards. We were sending up smoke signals all over the neighbourhood.

That's just not right.

The barbecue needed a new burner anyway so I decided to take it apart, clean it and replace the lava rocks. It's not that I didn't appreciate the previous flavours but now my barbecue is clean burning and I'd like to have the choice of flavours.

Even though I think my husband is a whiz at the barbecue I came across someone who I think may be more of a connoisseur at Basting Away in Margaritaville

Basting Away in Margaritaville sent me information about smoking meat on the barbecue. This information is an absolute gem for some one like me who is only an accidental smoker.

"We have a Big Green Egg Grill/Smoker and it uses lump charcoal as it's fuel instead of charcoal briquettes or gas. And to use wood in this you just sprinkle a little of the wood chips onto the fire once it gets going and it will smoke, the more you put the more it will smoke. You can do this on any grill, gas or charcoal.

To use it in gas, you'd only turn one side of your burner on, put the meat on the side the that is off and make a foil pack out of foil with the wood chips in it. Poke a bunch of holes in the top of this pack to let out the smoke. You can also soak your chips to create even more smoke but with an Egg this isn't necessary.

Some of the woods we like, apple, pecan, Jack Daniels Barrel chips, guava wood from Hawaii and hickory. I'd stay away from mesquite, only b/c it's a very strong taste and can be overpowering. Now people from Texas might disagree with that but I've found it to be too strong."

Now, thanks to Basting Away in Margaritaville our smoke signals will have a little more panache and we can finally put cedar smoked salmon on the menu this August.

I can't wait.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Happy Birthday

My grandmother's 90th birthday celebrated in an enchanted garden with her husband (my grandfather) of 68 years ...

My grandfather is quite the charmer. Despite having lost his sight, he never fails to tell his granddaughters how lovely they look. We love him for that!

I'm truly blessed.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

You Owe Me Chocolate

Did you ever wake up realizing the ringing phone is not a dream? What about trying to find that phone?

I love technology. Cordless phones. Cell phones. MP3s ... all of it. Everything now is so small, compact and not anchored to the wall. This only means that I spend quite a bit of time trying to find my high tech gadgets. I'm not above calling my cell phone to figure out where I left it but I'm doubly cursed because I often have to hunt for my glasses too. Too bad my glasses don't have a GPS attached because I can never find them. The problem is I can't see them, especially without them. It's a vicious cycle and invisible frames have not made my life easier. I've just resorted to announcing a bounty to my children if they find my glasses.

Anybody who finds Mommy's glasses gets a dollar!!!

They're older now and if you know the expression that a dollar doesn't go as far as it used to, watch your teenagers eyes roll when you announce the bounty. The indignity of this situation ... since I have to be close to see those eyes roll without my glasses too.

But back to my high tech woes. I have an emergency cell phone and when it rings, I spring into action.

Like last night.

At 3:00 am.

Maybe spring is too vigorous a statement because I just stood upright woozily wondering what I was doing manning the telethon phones in my pyjamas. I was still dreaming. My cell phone was ringing and I had to stumble around in the dark trying to find it. Here I am half asleep, in the dark, no glasses, trying to follow the ringing of a phone like a homing beacon but where the heck is the phone? Down the stairs, around the corner but the phone has stopped ringing. Aha, it's in my purse. I retrieve it, get the number and phone back immediately. No answer. This customer is not available. What?

Now I have to check my list of phone numbers to make sure it is not an emergency. It was a wrong number.

Hey, to the person who mistakenly called my cell this morning at 3:00 am. I have your number and you owe me chocolate.*

*See Dining Etiquette July 20th, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wine Dilemma

I love a glass of wine with my meals but I'm the first to admit that I know very little about wine. Recently I hit upon a system for picking out first rate and reasonably priced wine. An employee at the local government wine and liquor store would write on the shelf labels "Recommended or Highly Recommended by JR*" I was hesitant since handwritten notes seemed a bit out of place in an official government store but I threw caution to the winds and bought a few bottles with different recommendations. What did I have to loose? My "guess and buy" was the worst sort of gambling anyway.

The selections completely knocked my socks off. I was so smug. I had a system and it made me look smart.

This system was a far cry from the time I wandered into a small wine shop and asked for help. After all, I'm willing to be very humble when my knowledge is lacking. I asked the young gentleman to recommend some wines.

Well, these wines on the higher shelves are more expensive than the others on the lower shelves, so they're better.

Here was someone as lost at sea as I was. I mumbled something about needing time to make a decision and scooted out of the store.

That's why JR was such a breath of fresh air. In my smugness I even sent my non drinking husband to the store to pick up wine saying to him...don't worry, anything JR recommends is fine... Hubby came back with a bottle of wine but with a haunted look in his eyes. JR works somewhere else.

Uh ... hubby, did you buy from the top shelf?

Cune Rioja 2004 Crianza ... very nice Spanish selection by hubby.

Wine website with more information on this wine

*not JRs real initials

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cheap Thrills

I picked up a package of Thrills "soap gum" today. For those of you unfamiliar with soap gum, it's gum in the shape of chicklets with a hard purple shell. And yes, it tastes like soap. I've met a few people who don't believe that there is soap gum and people actually buy it. I am only buying it to introduce it to my friends at work. It reminds me of too many childhood threats of a thoroughly clean mouth. But there is this weird attraction, I feel compelled to try it again just to make sure.

Hmmm... the next time I hear an inappropriate comment from my children, I'm offering them soap gum.

Check out this Wiki site for your own cheap Thrills