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Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. Ottawa is a beautiful place to be, to remember, to be thankful and to honour those who have sacrificed their lives in the service of their country.

Not all stories of the military are tinged with sadness. Some bring a chuckle and hearty laugh.

My father in law tells of his required time in the military. His stories are the best.

When it came time for inspection, every crease had to be perfect, every item in place. The beds, shoes, uniform, everything had its' proper place. My father in law was quite the dedicated recruit and had hit upon a system to keep the high standards that were expected of him. In his foot locker, he had a board. On that board he had glued perfectly folded clothing. Once and awhile he had to dust the top layer, but the top layer was perfect every time his locker was inspected.

Smart man and pretty brave too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Muffin Man

Usually I don't write about things so painfully personal. This was hard, I broke down and cried after writing it.

I’ve tried to write about my father in law struggling with Parkinson’s and making muffins for my mother in law. As I wrote, I realised it sounded maudlin instead of a source of love and joy. There is a beauty, joy and privilege in having my father in law in my life. It’s been a transformation for this family to watch this boisterous gentleman as he slowly bends before Parkinson’s like a shuffling human question mark.

There is a trail of my father in law in this house. This time it was broken eggs, spilt coffee, and broken dishes, but he always did leave a trail.

Every time he came to visit, he kept busy building something. A cedar deck, a book shelf, a playhouse for the children…. As his Parkinson’s progressed, his projects became less ambitious. He painted and paint dripped down the walls. He fixed baseboards, which are still crooked.

This time there was no building, no painting, just some baking. He baked special muffins for his wife because she is unable to eat anything made with wheat.

My husband and I kept an ear out for him, as his coordination is not very good and he often drops things. Once and a while, we would hear the thump of a dish hit the ground or a spoon clatter. Unless something breaks, we stay out of the kitchen.

Then the smell of burnt sugar came wafting out of the kitchen. My father in law had put the muffins in the oven; it’s difficult for him to fill the muffin tins, so batter usually ends up on the bottom of the stove.

When I came into the kitchen, I asked him how he was doing. “Not too good, I dropped some egg.” There was flour, batter and egg on the floor, on the counter, the table… his efforts were spread everywhere.

(It drove us crazy 15 years before to have a trail. What we thought was sloppiness at the time, was the beginning of Parkinson’s disease.)

“It’s okay, we’ve dropped many eggs in this kitchen”. My father in law sat at the table and carefully scraped batter off the table top while I cleaned. He then hobbled over to the stove and took out the tray of muffins. In one corner was one gigantic muffin, in the other corner were some tiny slightly burnt muffins and between them, were muffins of every size.

It may seem sad, but it isn’t. We have the chance to love my fther in law by treating him with dignity and quietly cleaning up his trail. There is a profound joy in accepting the honour of our role… and it is a privilege to be trusted with caring for someone vulnerable.

I am humbled by my father in law. Every day is a constant struggle to survive and instead of giving up, he put all his effort into baking for someone else.

It is a privilege to clean up after him and one which I will not enjoy much longer. My father in law passed away yesterday June 20, 2012. We were very blessed to have him in our life.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mugging for the Camera

Looks like Mom has a muffin top.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Product Review

Screeeech, that's the sound of my soap box. Excuse me while I step up.

The start of school means some interesting challenges for my children. They have been in classrooms where the list on the door of forbidden foods has been as long as my arm. No nuts, peanuts, kiwi, egg, dairy, fish, shellfish....

No shellfish? This one made me snicker a bit since the luxury of shellfish will never make it on my kid's lunch.

The forbidden food list highlights an alarming trend about the number of allergies that children today are facing. It seems that there are more triggers for severe allergic reactions and the classroom can be a dangerous place for children who risk an anaphylactic reaction.

I cannot imagine the worry parents have when they send their child to school with a life threatening allergy.

It has never been posted no wheat or gluten products. There's a very good reason for that omission. My family won't die in the presence of breadcrumbs. We don't expect others to refrain from eating products with gluten. And I am thankful my worries don't include severe reactions.

Schools have been proactive about reducing the risk to children with severe allergies by banning peanuts and nuts in schools altogether.

A box of President's Choice peanut free products was sent to our household recently. The glutenator, the one child who could eat gluten, was thrilled. Here was enough peanut free snack food for months of school lunches. The celiacs were not thrilled; but they understand that their restrictions do not expand to encompass everyone.

It's a valuable lesson.

We squirreled the snack food out of sight, because it's just cruel to dangle a mountain of goodies in front of people who can't eat it. And I broke out the apron to bake gluten free muffins and other treats.

Would I buy peanut free treats? Before our celiac diagnosis, the answer would have been no since I made peanut free goodies myself. Now, it's not so easy. I almost never cook with wheat anymore. The risk of cross contamination is too high and the frantic cleaning is not that appealing.

Now I buy more ready made wheat products for the glutenators because it reduces risk to my family.

What am I preaching on my soap box?

We have a responsibility toward children to reduce the risk of danger. We cannot eliminate it entirely and there is a point at which each person will have to be aware of the risk. But as adults - it is our responsibility to reduce risk, teach awareness and provide safe places for our children.

I cannot guarantee there is no cross contamination from peanuts in our home. I cannot eliminate the risk of someone with a life threatening allergy having a reaction in my home. But I can contribute to reducing risk by having peanut free snacks on my child's lunch.

I'll buy that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blender Muscle

We've been working our way through testing out our new Vita Mix which I won from a give away at Jumbo Empanadas.

The motor is so powerful if I attached it to a boat, I'm sure I could pull a water skier. It will even grind dried chickpeas - a fact that bowled me over since I first thought hummous was made with hard dried chickpeas. Thank goodness I did not own this blender the first time I tried to make hummous. My poor guests would have been subjected to the most awful hummous paste.

But the blender would have worked!

More on our Vita Mix experiments later.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Good grief, I haven't started the Daring Baker challenge and the chocolate is going fast. It doesn't last long in hot sticky weather so it's probably for the best.

Right Jenny?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wild Dash

Even though the occasional bear would wander through the neighbourhood, we rarely saw them. They tended to be more interested in garbage cans and would bound away when noisy humans rounded the corner.

Skunks are a different story. We were the ones who would bound away hastily when the whiff or flash of tail came across our path.

In the summer time hot humid days would break out in shattering thunderstorms that soaked and cooled everything. The hot muggy air made moving unbearable and before any of our cars had air conditioning, we would keep the windows rolled down so we wouldn't cook when we used the car. Once you've had the experience of searing your skin on hot vinyl, you always left your car windows open.

So it wasn't unusual to go out in the evening to roll up the windows because of threatening thunderstorms.

One evening my mother asked me to watch from the doorway while she went to close the car windows. The unmistakable whiff of skunk was in the air but we couldn't figure out where the critter was hiding.

No one wants to run into a skunk.

Carefully and slowly, my mother looked left and right before strolling to the car. It was dark outside and we didn't want a skunk to pop out and surprise her. Cautiously, everything moved in slow motion.

From my vantage point on the top of the stairs, nothing much was happening for a bored teenager.

Just as my mother finished rolling up the windows I screamed...


She snatched up her dress in two handfuls and made a panicked mad dash for the house... where I was holding on the doorframe to remain upright and gasping for air while laughing.

The panicked look on my mom's face gave way to anger... I think. I was laughing too hard to remember.

I was in so much trouble. Well earned I'd say.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bear Breaks into Bakery

Being Canadian entails more wild life encounters than many countries.

Here, we had a school lockdown; not because of crazed lunatics with weapons but because there was a bear in the neighbourhood. No child could be allowed outside without adult supervision to ensure their safety.

Bears make news because they are generally shy and avoid people... unless they are hungry.

One of my aunts had a bear step on her hand when she was blueberry picking. She was stunned but calm and the bear went on his way.

Berry picking is a higher risk activity because both bears and humans want the juicy fruit. If you visit a blueberry patch and see plants stripped clean of berries, rest assured a bear has been visiting.

My grandparents have a cottage in blueberry country so they have seen plenty of bears.

The story that is most legend was when a bear stepped on my aunt's head.

My two aunts were playing in a pile of discarded brush and sticks. They had created a fort underneath and were hiding inside. All of sudden they heard a thumping running noise; a bear cub was running away, terrified, from some people. He ran over the pile of brush and his paw broke through to step on my aunt's head. He scrambled down to the entrance of the fort to head inside and came face to face with my terrified aunts.

They screamed at the face of the bear peering into the fort. My grandmother heard their screams and came tearing out of the cottage.

Thankfully the bear took off and no one was hurt. We still laugh at that story.

This news article about a bear breaking into a bakery triggered some of my bear recollections. Unfortunately there was no video of the event but I did track down a video of a bear at a Subway restaurant.

Bear Breaks into Bakery

TOBERMORY, Ont. - The owner of a bakery in Tobermory, Ont., has had a few sleepless nights after a black bear broke into the shop.

The bruin was first discovered last Friday enjoying some cookies as he sat atop a freezer at the Little Tub Bakery.

The Ministry of Natural Resources set a trap.

The owner of the shop says he woke up early today to loud noises as the bear got caught in the trap.

Wayne Hadcock says it was hard to get back to sleep because the bear was banging his body against the cage, trying to escape.

The bear is now in the custody of the Natural Resources Ministry.

Original article can be found here

This video shows a bear visiting a Subway restaurant in British Columbia, Canada.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Well Baked Tart

Like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I'm late once again for a challenge. But I made it... or rather Jenny and I made it.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I was pleasantly surprised by this challenge, in fact, everyone around the table seemed surprised. Jenny and I were very laissez faire about the whole thing and no one was expecting too much satisfaction out of the dessert. Surprisingly, the recipe rated a solid eight out of ten.

When I think of tarts, I think of oozing fillings with a pie crust. The frangipane in the Bakewell Tart was more like-cake than custardy. Could this be because it was gluten free? I have no idea.

Bakewell Tart... er... Pudding

Sweet shortcrust pastry

225g (8oz) gluten free flour mix*
1 teaspoon (5 mL) xanthan gum
30g (1oz) sugar
110g (4oz) salted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) vanilla extract (optional)
45-60ml (3-4 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside. Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.


125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) vanilla extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) gluten free flour mix*

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle, don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour. Spoon the mixture over the jam.

Assembly Instructions

Place ball of dough on parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and squish down with your hands. Then use rolling pin and roll pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When pastry is to desired size and thickness, transfer it to tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Blind bake the crust for about ten minutes until golden and slightly puffy. It will not puff as much as a wheat flour crust. Remove from the oven and spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 20 minutes.

Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking. The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish. When you slice into the tart, the frangipane paste will be firm and cakelike. The crust should be crisp but not tough.

*Gluten Free Flour Mix
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cups potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca flour

Lessons Learned

1) Teamwork makes a challenge easy.

2) I may not have time for a challenge, but always will have some time to socialise.

3) The tartiest thing about this challenge were the two cooks.

4) Keep your guests' expectations low. That way they are pleasantly surprised. Keep 'em hungry too and they'll eat anything.

5) I owe some kids bribe money for trying some of the weird food we served.

Hop over to the Daring Kitchen to see the buzz this month. The original recipe will be posted at The Daring Kitchen and on the host blogs.

Thank you Jasmine and Annemarie!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day

When I was little, I lived on a border town with the United States. One of the best parts of living there was the chance to see fireworks on the 1st of July and on the 4th of July. Today I'm far from a neighbouring American town and I miss the excitement of the holidays so close together. Nonetheless, Happy Canada Day and I'm off to see the fireworks.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Eggs-actly as Planned

Jenny is my idol for organisation and she faithfully creates a menu plan each week. It always sounds lovely and I can attest that her food is fabulous.

I've slid in the food preparation department in the last month. However, this week I thought about a menu plan and here is goes...

Monday - Buy groceries after work for hamburgers and salad. Oops I'm back home and forgot hamburger, guess we'll have eggs.

Tuesday - Hubby has a meeting and we're down to three of us. Hmmm, one is vegetarian. Ok, eggs again.

Wednesday - Canada Day - Picnic and fireworks... hard boiled eggs are easy to transport.....

Thursday - Friends over for a Mexican themed supper. Make salsa for eggs.

Friday - Pizza.

Jenny, I'm joking about eggs on Thursday, but the rest of the week ... not so much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fingersticking Challenge

What was that sound? It was the wooooooosh of a Daring Cook's Challenge being posted around the world and passing me by. Ooops, totally fogot about the date and mixed it up with the reveal date.

This month's challenge was hosted by Jen of Use Real Butter. She chose to challenge us with Chinese Potstickers.

Jen's blog is gorgeous and she beautifully illustrates how to make the potstickers. Although, she pokes fun of how white folks roll out the dough! Well Jen, this whitey used her tortilla press and the dough was perfectly round.... but pleating skills in this house leave a lot to be desired.

We used a gluten free recipe and the dough was very gluey. Our finger tips morphed with the dough until we just pleated finger sticking blobs.

The gluten free recipe can be found on Jen's blog. Since it included wheat starch and I wasn't confident I could find a gluten free wheat starch, I substituted a combination of tapioca starch, rice starch and other gluten free flours.

Note that one of my connoisseurs loved the pot stickers.

Filling chopped and ready to be stuffed into the dough. It looked good but tasted suspiciously like dried out tofu. Wait, it was tofu. Ugh.

My perfectly round dough disks morphed into blobs once they were cooked.

Lessons Learned

1) For perfectly round flat gorgeous disks of dough, just use the tortilla press. I love my tortilla press.

2) Gluten free potstickers cling to fingers like glue so attempts at perfect pleats are laughable. Hahahahaha

3) Substituting tofu for pork in the filling is really not that appetizing.

4) This challenge pushed me way beyond my comfort zone and I loved the introduction to a completely different technique. Would I do this again? Maybe.

Thank you Jen for a great challenge!

Pop over to the Daring Kitchen to see some of the other posts.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I was awoken yesterday by the sound of a large animal and hooves clattering on the pavement. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to catch a glimpse of what it was... but I suspect a deer.

However, this little creature has been hopping around for a while.

I wish bunnies ate dandelions. He would be one well fed little fellow!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stretchless Strudel

Strudel was the challenge this month and visions of bakers stretching their thin glutinous dough filled my head... but not for me. Gluten free meant more research to recreate a thin, flaky crispy dough that would not break when rolled. It didn't look very hopeful.

A round of applause to Karen of Gluten Free Sox Fan - she helped with a recipe that recreated the thin flaky texture of a strudel dough. But the shaping and baking was very different from a traditional wheat flour.

First Step

Mix the thimblefuls of flour mixes (the amounts were very small) into a pasty dough. Not much to look at.

Second Step

Spread pasty dough into even layer on Silpat or parchment. Any wrinkles in the parchment become fissures through which all filling leaks. Silpat would be better.

Third Step

Cook until it begins to release from the paper. Gently fill and roll, then cook again.

Fourth Step

Photograph before devouring.

The recipe for the gluten free strudel can be found here in the book Gluten-Free Baking with Culinary Institute of America.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Lessons Learned

1) Baking gluten free strudel is possible with a great team of advisers. I surprised myself. Despite not being hopeful about a great strudel - it was amazing.

2) Gluten free strudel is faster to make then regular - no stretching required!

3) For a thin flexible and flaky dough, this GF dough is loaded with egg, whey and soy protein. Not a problem in this household but loaded with potential allergens for other households.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mystery Solved!

Thanks to some research, a few comments and an email from Jenny we solved the mystery of the package I purchased.

The package of Yerba Mate was right beside the Pan in the Mexican and South American food section. The label on the shelf was covered by a stack of food but the packages were peeking out over top.

See the resemblance?

What I thought was a bag of coarsely ground cornmeal (the package resembled the same type of packaging) turned out to be a kilogram of loose tea.

Um, we don't drink that much tea. Thankfully the kind cashier took pity on us (snickering all the while) and returned the package.

Wouldn't you have made the same mistake?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gluten Free What?

This little sign got me so excited .....

Libre de gluten

Even I can understand that much Spanish and I bought a package of gluten free.... well, I didn't really know what it was until I Googled it.

Any guesses?

Daring Cook's First Challenge

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

I'm late, I'm late ... for a very important date!

The first Daring Cook's challenge from the Daring Kitchen and like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I am late to post about it. Ironically I made the challenge twice because my family liked it so much.

This month our daring founders Ivonne from Creampuffs in Venice and Lisa from La Mia Cucina chose Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café.

Two thumbs up for this recipe and only a little tweaking was required to convert it to gluten free. For the original recipe, check out the Daring Kitchen or better yet, buy The Zuni Café Cookbook here.

Gnocchi rolled in a combination of cornmeal and potato flour.

Plump Lumps Ready for cooking.

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)
Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

For the gnocchi:
1 pound fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves (optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
cornmeal and potato flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible. Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture. Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.
Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks.

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep. With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour. At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.... that would be a plump lump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them. Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside. In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously. Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi). When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now. With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Lessons Learned

1) Take pictures even if your first batch looks like albino poop.

2) Form the gnocchi using spoons to make quenelles. The dough is very delicate and will stick to your hands.

3) If you like ricotta, fresh milk and parmigiano, you will love these light gnocchi. If you aren't a milk and cheese person these gnocchi will not appeal to you.

4) We prefer the light texture of these gnocchi compared to some heavy pasty potato gnocchi we've tried.

5) Too much butter for the original sauce made the first batch too heavy. A lighter touch with the butter was our preference.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

House Party Masala Sauce

Spring is in full force here and the pink shoots of my rhubarb plants have unfurled into tender green leaves. It's heartening to have a robust plant that won't die no matter how I neglect it, and I do neglect it.

Why can't I appreciate this plant more? I guess familiarity breeds contempt and the bags of cut frozen rhubarb hibernating in my freezer remind me of last summer's bounty.

When we were children, we would grab a young stem of rhubarb and dip it repeatedly into a small bowl of sugar after each puckery bite. Each of us in turn would laugh at the sour faces we made as we gnawed on the pink stalks. Somehow repeating that experience as an adult no longer holds the same appeal, my children don't want to play that game either.

Our rhubarb plants are embarrassingly generous with their productivity and it just seems ungrateful to ignore the frozen chunks of rhubarb before our next harvest.

I must focus on the positive, the things we love to eat... Indian food and HP Sauce.

Our family has fallen in love with the complexity of Indian spice mixes and we generously douse HP Sauce on our food. How could I add rhubarb, Indian spices and the appeal of HP sauce into something delicious?

Experiment anyone?

House Party Masala was the result of adding everything up and cooking it into a sauce.

The sauce earned two thumbs up from the family. It had the appeal of HP Sauce, a touch more of a spicy bite and a lingering shadow of Indian spice. We loved it and the sauce is on our table just in time for barbecue season.

House Party Masala Sauce

11 cups rhubarb, diced (2750 mL)
2 cups onion, chopped (500 mL)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1&1/2 cups water (375 mL)
15 whole cloves
1 tablespoon hot chili pepper flakes (15 mL)
1 cup white vinegar (250 mL)
3 cups brown sugar (750 mL)
1/4 cup black strap molasses (60 mL)
1 teaspoon salt (5 mL)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (2 mL)
1 tablespoon garam masala

Combine rhubarb, onions, garlic, cloves and hot pepper flakes in a large stainless steel pot. Bring everything to a boil and boil gently for 15 minutes. The rhubarb will begin fall apart.

Puree the mixture in a blender and return to the saucepan. Make sure the lid of the blender is firmly attached otherwise hot sauce may explode out of your blender when it is running.

Add vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, salt, pepper and garam masala. Stirring frequently, boil gently until mixture thickens - about 45 minutes. Pour into prepared jars.

Yields 4 x 500 mL jars (2 litres or 8 cups)

Note: For safe home canning techniques and food processing please refer to Bernardin's website here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Savour the Tulips

This weekend my husband and I had the chance to sample some food and wines at the Savour the Tulips event with fellow blogger, Quellia from All Things Edible and her husband. Hugs and big thanks to our long suffering husbands for being good natured and patient while we scribbled notes, snapped pictures and debated the merits of one tasty morsel over another.

The atmosphere in the Mirror Tent was lively and upbeat with crowds of serious foodies whose Spring Fabulous! attire ranged from high heeled silk elegance to socks and birkenstocks.

...and the food, oh my the food was gorgeous.

ARC Lounge & Restaurant

Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana

My husband and I settled on the top three products that were absolute shining stars in this tasty event. Not only did our taste buds sing when we sampled these products, but we made sure we had the information to find them again... and again!

The first dish that captured our attention was the smoked salmon from The Pelican Fishery & Grill, the second was the Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup from the Red Apron and the third was salmon and turkey sausages from Denis' Fine Foods.

The gentlemen in this picture from Pelican Fishery & Grill had a line up that never quit, and for good reason. Everyone voted with their plates for the mouthwatering smoked salmon they were plating up for the crowds. My husband snatched the program from my hands to draw stars beside the restaurant name.

The Sweet Potato and Coconut soup from the Red Apron had a gingery zing to it and we loved the flavour. Check out their gorgeous website for more information on their products; as the website does much more justice to their products than a snapshot of the soup on my plate.

The sausages from Denis' Fine Foods were an absolute delight. Both the turkey and salmon thai sausages earned thumbs up at the table. They were served on a slice of cucumber with a sliver of pepper which was a welcome crunchy counter part to the sausage. I spoke briefly with the team preparing the sausages to ask about wheat and breadcrumbs. Even though gluten is not a concern for me, I don't purchase sausage with fillers because of the celiacs in my family and fillers indicate a lower quality sausage.

Guess what? No gluten and no fillers in these sausages!

There are no pictures of the sausage. Unforgiveable really, but we inhaled them and only realised once we were home that we had no pictures. The best food distracted us from taking pictures of it ...

Denis' Fine Foods does not currently have a website but their sausages are currently available at Loeb in the Glebe, Thyme and Again in Westboro, the Red Apron at Gladstone on Bronson and the Pelican Fishery & Grill.

It looks like quality sticks together.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Daring Cheesecake

The Daring Bakers have rolled up their collective sleeves and worked on the lastest challenge... cheesecake! The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

There isn't a lot of cheese cake in this house. Although we find it on every restaurant menu, we don't tend to order it. Usually we find the texture a bit pasty and the cheesecake sticks to the roof of the mouth. But, but, this cheesecake.... well, holy moly the texture was divine!

Jenny would be so proud of her friend for bringing another person over to the cheese cake side of life. The recipe was modified to be gluten free and booze free - booze on the side please, it packs a bigger punch! The original recipe can be found at Jenny Bakes or at the Daring Kitchen where there is a gorgeous slide show of some of the creations of our members.

Rather than contend with a potentially soggy crust, I bought disposable aluminium tins for smaller cheesecakes. The recipe made a total of 8 cheesecakes and each serves at least 3 people. The added bonus was that the baking time was cut in half because of the smaller cheesecakes.

Just Poured Cheesecake

Cheesecake based on Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

200 gram (1 & 2/3 cups) sweetened flaked coconut
60 mL (1/4 cup) flax seed meal
60 mL (1/4 cup) coconut flour (can be omitted but I had leftovers.... so in it went)
30 mL (2 tbsp) sugar
125 mL (1/2 cup) butter
5 mL (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese room temperature
1 cup / 383 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp liqueur, optional

1. Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese & sugar in bowl of stand-mixer, cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

Ready for the Oven

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Note When cooked in one large pan, the cheesecake does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly! The smaller pans required only 1/2 hour cooking and 1/2 hour cooling in the oven.


Styling my cheesecake turned out to be a gloopy mashed potato mess of a disaster. Even though the worst disasters make the best stories, my strategy was a cover up. The sprinkling of coconut and caramel sauce was my attempt at camouflage.

Quellia, the next time I complain about my heap of cake, I will take pictures!

Oops, my cheesecake had an accident... the shame... the shame...

Lessons Learned

1) Smaller cheesecakes save time and make more sense for portion size.

2) Take pictures of decorating disasters instead of just eating them. That way your friends can laugh with you.

3) Never judge a cheesecake by previous cheesecakes.

4) My new motto for my lack of decorating skills is "I don't play with your food before you do."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt

Today is a gorgeous sunny Easter morning.

This week we've been watching a wild rabbit hop it's way all over our yard. We're not sure what attracts the rabbits but every year around this time one or two "Easter" bunnies cavort on our lawn.

In previous years our children would be fascinated by the wild bunnies. Not one to waste an opportunity, I christened them the Easter bunnies. Last year was the final year for the magic of the Easter bunny and everyone has graduated to a more sophisticated level of understanding of their parents' deception.

Our youngest was thrilled to be the master of the Easter egg hunt since he was in charge of hiding all the chocolate eggs. As the official Easter bunny, he is patiently waiting for his teenage siblings to wake up and hunt for the eggs.

This may take a while.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Check the Chick Peas

Every month at the new Daring Kitchen, we introduce new challenges. Often, recipe instructions are lengthy and detailed; they may seem clear to some participants but not everyone agrees. Confusion over weights, measures, phrases, ingredients and technique abound.

However, the forum provides ample opportunity to question and discuss the recipes. There are never any stupid questions and the quality of the communication always delights me. It's truly a global village since we come from different backgrounds and cultures. We are learning a whole new language and way of communicating.

Even among friends we have the same type of discussions.

We love chick peas in our house. The first time hummus was introduced to this family, it was a love affair. We had never heard of chick peas, never seen them, and had no idea what they could possibly be.

So I begged my friend for her hummus recipe. She gave me the following instructions... it's really quite simple, chick peas, garlic, tahini sauce...

... wait, Tahini?

Tahini was unfamiliar so she carefully explained ground sesame paste. The instructions were simple enough and I trotted off to find the ingredients.

Chick peas... check
Tahini....... check
Garlic....... check
Other stuff.. check

But it just didn't seem right so I called my good friend and asked "Do you cook your chick peas?"

Friend: "Cook? Why? You can heat them up if you want but I don't cook them.... "

Something is not right about this answer.

Me: "Listen, I trust you would not steer me wrong. You've made this before but I need to know... will it wreck my blender?"

Friend: "What are you putting into your hummus!?!?!"

Me: "Everything you said, chickpeas, garlic, tahini.... but the chick peas seem a little hard and I have to admit my blender is a bit of a wimp."

Friend: "Hard? That's odd, mine have been firm but never hard. You could microwave them for a minute but even a wimpy blender should be able to handle hummus. Add some water from the can."

Me: "Can? What can?"

Friend: "What? The can of chickpeas!"

Me: "They didn't come in a can but in a 2 kg bag."

Peals of laughter from the other end of the phone. After my friend wiped the tears from her eyes and had her snickering under control, I was informed that canned chickpeas were the easiest way to make hummus. However, since I was the proud owner of the biggest bag of chickpeas in the store, I would have the biggest batch of hummus she had ever seen.

I wish this were the end of the story but it isn't. Dry roasted chick peas are a great quick protein rich snack. Unfortunately, dry roasted and just dry chick peas look very similar.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Before I launch into our latest Daring Challenge, I have to express my appreciation to the many people who made this challenge possible.

First, to the lovely gracious Melinda of Melbourne Larder in Australia. She transformed all our correspondence into a beautifully written presentation on the private forum. Enza of Io da Grande in Italy, thank you for giggling at me over the eggs and jumping in with all your expertise. A heartfelt thank you to Lynne Rossetto-Kasper for granting us permission to use your beautifully written recipe. The cookbook The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emiglia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food records the rich and gorgeous stories of the traditional table in the Emiglia-Romagna area; we are so grateful to have this cookbooks' guidance. Any mistakes or omissions in the use of the recipe rest entirely on our shoulders.

To all the Daring Bakers, who plunged into this challenge though it scared the dickens out of many of them. Ivonne and Lisa, thank you for encouraging us to push the envelope of what we traditionally consider baking. Alternative bakers a big thank you! You've made the transition to a gluten free lifestyle much easier.

Last but not least, thank you to the nonnas who uphold the pleasure and love of a well tended table for their families. Nonna Giuseppina di Modena and Nonna Dora, you are goddesses among women and your cooking is greatly missed.

It is especially to all the nonnas, that I dedicate this challenge. The videos on this post display an expertise that far surpasses my own in the family kitchen.

Enough of the moosh, as Lisa would say, let's roll up our sleeves and get started!

With spring just launched in the northern hemisphere, and autumn descending in the southern hemisphere, the March challenge is a rich dish that we hope will be suitable fare for Daring Bakers around the world and not cause too much heat or stress in the kitchen!

This month’s challenge has global input, with the three hosts living in three continents: Mary of Beans and Caviar in Canada, Melinda of Melbourne Larder in Australia and Enza of Io da Grande in Italy. All three of us are very keen bakers for our families and friends and very excited to be hosting our first Daring Bakers challenge!

The recipe we’ve chosen this month is Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Lasagne is a dish that has successfully transcended borders and is today made around the world, albeit with many variations from the Italian original. Even within Italy, there are many variations and each region has its own lasagne tradition. But, as Lynne explains in her introduction to the recipe – and Enza, as our Italian expert for this dish, also agrees - the dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”

Sweet pasta is unusual but here is a traditional pasta recipe for our sweetest bloggers Emilia-Romagna Turismo This pasta could be paired with flavours of cream, raisins, pine nuts, orange, rosewater, prosciutto etc.

The most important part of this challenge is the hand-made Spinach Egg Pasta. We’ve also included Lynne’s recipes for béchamel (white) sauce and meat ragu but you can choose to use your own bechamel and ragu (or vegetarian sauce) recipes. Please follow Lynne’s instructions for the final assembly.

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Since my version of the lasagne must be gluten free, I'm relying on "Nonna Video" for guidance in the traditional version.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

Spinach Egg Pasta Pasta Verde
Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g each or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:

A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta. Although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm).

Note: Enza says transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Country Style Ragu’ Ragu alla Contadina
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Meat Ready for the Pan

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Minced Vegetables and Pancetta

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Browning the Ragu Base

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Gluten Free
Although I have made Lynne Rossetto-Kasper's Lasagne in the original version, and I absolutely love it, this last year has seen a drastic change in the way my family eats. It turns out that three of the five of us are celiac. For a family in love with Italian food, it has been quite a shock.

We have moved from rice cakes to other food but there is still a longing for good pasta with a firm but pleasing texture and a subtle taste... especially lasagne, oh how we miss homemade lasagne! This challenge gave me the shove I needed to explore the gluten free side of lasagne. I was not confident about adding spinach, so my first attempt was the lasagne without spinach in the pasta.

Gluten Free Egg Pasta

The choice of the first flour is a matter of personal taste – please feel free to substitute a different flour for the corn flour.

150 gr corn flour or masa in North America - yellow with a slightly gritty feel (250 mL, 1 cup) NOT a starch
100 gr corn starch* (3/4 cup, 187.5 mL)
100 gr tapioca flour* (225 mL, 9/10 cup or a little over 7 volume ounces)
150 gr of potato starch* (250 mL, 1 cup)
100 gr of glutinous rice flour* (200 mL, ¾ cup)
10 gr of Xanthan powder (1.5 tsp, 7.5 mL)
10 gr of salt (1 tsp, 5 mL)

6 extra large eggs (60 gr each or 2.5 oz in weight, 1 fluid oz in volume)
3/8 cup of water (95 mL)
50 mL of extra virgin olive oil (1/5 cup)

*fine white powder that squeaks when rubbed between fingers

Plastic wrap or parchment paper for your work surface
Aluminium foil to cover the lasagne

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.

Whisk together 3 eggs, the water and/or spinach, and the oil. Pour into the middle of the dry ingredients. Mix with a sturdy wooden spoon, gradually drawing more of the flour mix into the wet ingredients. Add each egg as needed. The dough will be crumbly at the beginning but will gradually come together as you add the eggs. You will need to use your hands to squeeze and mix the dough.

The dough will be firm and stick together when ready. It will not have the elasticity of gluten dough therefore it will crack when kneaded and pushed. Form it into a smooth ball, oil it lightly, and cover securely with plastic wrap. Let it rest for an hour.

Put a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface. This is very important as the dough will not hold together very well when lifted. Have flour ready for dusting (corn flour etc) and dust the surface lightly. Cut a piece of dough about the size of really large egg – it doesn’t matter the size but start small for the first one to gauge how much space you need. Keep the remaining dough covered so it does not dry.

Roll the dough into a ball and flatten into a disc with your hands. Put it on your work surface and flatten with your hands. Use a rolling pin and gently push the dough down and out ward from the centre. You may have to place one hand on the plastic wrap as you push the dough down and away. Gluten free dough does not stretch like wheat dough therefore it needs gentle flattening and pushing. If it breaks, pat it back together. If it is too dry, dab a little water with your finger.

The gluten free dough will be thicker than wheat dough and you will barely be able to see your hand through the dough. Once it is flattened, cut into strips or squares that will fit your pan.

Set the dough aside on the plastic sheet. There is no need to dry the dough. But if you do dry the dough, it will not be able to hang because it will break. Stack the rolled out dough with plastic sheets in between.

Stack the sheets when dry and wrap securely. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Freezing will make the dough crumbly and difficult to work with – so freeze only as a last resort!

This dough does not need to be precooked before being assembled into the lasagne.

Mixed and Kneaded Dough

Pushing and Squashing Into Shape

Rolling Dough A marble rolling pin was easier to use since a wooden one and Xanthan gum stick together like glue, unless you very liberally flour the rolling pin. Unlike wheat flour dough, the gluten free dough will wick up the sauce even when flattened mercilessly. This greedy slurping up of sauce can easily turn your lasagne gelatinous and mushy.

Tansparency? Bahahaha ... not like wheat dough! But you can barely see the outline of my fingers.

Rolled as Thin as Possible

Gluten Free Béchamel - White Sauce

2 & 2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or Extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons corn starch (fine white and squeaky) – another starch can be substituted
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg

Mix the corn starch with ½ cup of cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk in a small sauce pan until steaming but do not boil. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture to the steaming milk. Stirring constantly, raise the heat and heat the mixture until thick. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and add the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Have the béchamel warm or at room temperature ready to assemble the lasagne. Whisk the sauce occasionally if it becomes stiff or thick.

Assembling the Gluten Free Lasagne

The assembly is the same as the regular lasagne with the addition of water. Gluten free lasagne noodles need a little more moisture for the lasagne, so you will be adding a little bit of water to the lasagne.

Before assembly, pour plain water into the pan, enough to form a thin film of water over the bottom. A 9 x 13 inch or 25 x 33 cm pan required almost ½ cup (125 mL) of water. Once the lasagne is assembled, pour a tablespoon or 15 mL of water into each corner of the dish. Cover the lasagne tightly with aluminium foil. Be careful not to touch the top of the lasagne with the foil. Bake as directed.

Finished Lasagne

I was so proud of this lasagne - the pasta kept distinct layers and had a touch of firmness. Drying the pasta overnight on plastic sheets helped tremendously. But freezing the pasta was a disaster, the sheets crumbled and broke when they were made into another lasagne.

Spinach Lasagne

The gluten free spinach lasagne was a triumph of taste but mediocre in texture since the pasta sheets became too soft. The spinach was too watery therefore the dough could only absorb 4 of the 6 eggs and it needed additional flour to combat the sticky texture. The protein of the eggs is very important to the structure of gluten free pasta. We were hungry, so the pasta sheets went directly into the lasagne without any drying. The texture of the dough when I kneaded it was silky and elastic, just like the wheat dough... I suspected trouble at that point!

I won't give up on the spinach version because the taste was divine, splendid even. The layers melted into each other but reducing the water, drying the pasta sheets and using more eggs should turn out a divine texture as well as taste. Here's a picture of my mediocre "but brimming with potential" lasagne.

Lessons Learned

1) Ask questions and read the private forum for solutions. Together, the Daring Kitchen turned out fantastic lasagnes.

2) Gracious cohosts and authors made this adventure very enjoyable. Thank you!

3) Gluten free pasta making is faster than making homemade wheat dough - a little incentive to keep me attempting for the perfect lasagne.

4) I'm hungry and there's leftover lasagne in the fridge... ciao!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cookbook Coconut

I must be a nightmare for any cook book author. Smells, tastes and texture fill my mind when I sink into a cookbook but imagination takes me far beyond the original recipe into uncharted territory.

Yummm, cinnamon… what if I use cardamom…? Whoa that’s a truck load of oil… what about butter instead? …. sounds delicious but I’m missing one egg…. hmmmm, can’t use wheat flour so I’ll try this or that....what about margaritas ... margaritas?!? Where did that come from? .... never mind.

By the time I’ve mangled the recipe, the original is a distant memory.

It turns out that this apple has not fallen far from the tree. My father is an inspired cook - he skims a recipe, changes most of it and turns out an amazing dish. He introduced our family to Chinese food long before we had ever seen a Chinese restaurant. Inspired by the cooking show Yan Can Cook with chef Martin Yan, my father equipped our kitchen with Yan's cookbooks, a wok and various exotic utensils.

We fell in love with Chinese food. At my first visit to a Chinese restaurant I ordered sweet and sour chicken. Memories of my father's sweet and sour dishes filled me with longing. My plate arrived with perfectly round golf dough balls smothered in electric orange sauce.

I was shocked.

Electric orange golf balls were a far cry from my father's dishes and I realized that a well written cookbook teaches valuable lessons, even when the reader wanders off into dreamy new territory.

I had to chart some new territory myself with this recipe, Sally’s Coconut Macaroons from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

Eggs had to be replaced because of allergies so in went flax seed meal, tapioca starch and water. Oops, there wasn't enough coconut in the house so the recipe was reduced. Couldn't use butter for the dish because of allergies too. Oil didn't sound appealing so parchment paper was used instead.

Dutifully (ahem) I followed the remaining fragments of the recipe and formed lovely coconut mounds on the cookie sheet. After about 15 minutes, I peered into the oven... all my carefully formed coconut mounds had morphed together to form a lovely smooth layer. Ackk! renaming the recipe was my only recourse.

Sally, I’m sorry. I’d gladly eat the originals because they sound amazing. In contrition for mangling your recipe, here are some fabulous Coconut Wafers.

Coconut Wafers

1&1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flax seed meal
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
½ cup water
½ tsp pure almond extract
Pinch of salt

Parchment paper (if you do not use parchment paper, butter the cookie sheet generously)
Large cookie sheet with upturned edges or 9x13 pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the coconut and sugar in a small bowl.

Mix together the flax seed meal, tapioca flour and water in a small cup. Microwave the mixture for thirty seconds. The mixture will be thick and gelatinous and maybe a little lumpy. Stir vigorously to smooth the mixture then add the salt and almond extract.

Combine flax, flour, water mixture with the shredded coconut/sugar mixture. Mix until fully combined. Spoon the mixture onto the parchment on the cookie sheet. You can flatten and smooth this mixture onto the sheet, however, it will morph into one layer no matter how much you wish differently!

Since your mixture has an irresistible longing to be together, it will spread to fill the pan with a thin layer; your pan must have edges to prevent it from sliding onto the oven floor!

Cook for 20 to 25 minutes until the edges are slightly brown and crisp. Remove the pan from oven and let cool in the dish. The coconut crisp will be stiff but slightly gooey. Cut with a sharp knife and a gentle rocking motion so you do not shatter the wafer.

Store in the freezer, tightly covered, with parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers of wafers.

Recipe adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Blue Menu

Not long ago, I was contacted by a representative for the PC Blue Menu line and asked if I would be interested in reviewing some of their products.

There are certain products with which I have had shameless love affairs; truffle oil is one and the President's Choice Chocolate chip cookies another. This cookie love affair has a long history, a bit longer than my marriage I might add. In fact, my infatuation dates back to the time when these cookies still wore their plain neon yellow no name wrapper.

But times changed and the plain yellow school uniform evolved into the Armani- esque President's Choice The Decadent Chocolate Chip packaging. Different suit but same love interest!

What does this have to do with my interest in the PC Blue Menu? I was very interested to try new products from Loblaws because they are constantly reinventing their offerings. Healthy and organic are two qualities which piqued my interest, but the bottom line would be how my family liked the food.

PC Organics European Extra Dark Chocolate

This is not technically part of the Blue Menu but chocolate is one of the favourite food groups in this house and we have our priorities....

There is nothing left but the wrapper from this chocolate bar (little snicker) and we would have licked the wrapper too if any chocolate sauce were smeared onto it! With 85% cocoa solids this is an over powering strong chocolate, too strong to eat straight up. But, the smoothness of the bar made the possibilities for this chocolate endless. It was the perfect candidate to make a decadent chocolate cream sauce which everyone loved.

Chocolate Orange Cream

100 g PC extra dark 85% chocolate, broken into bits
75 mL white sugar
250 mL heavy/whipping cream (unwhipped)
grated zest of one orange

Heat cream and orange zest over medium low heat until a slight skin forms and shimmers on the surface. Remove from heat and add sugar. Whisk until sugar is fully dissolved. If the sugar is not fully dissolved, place pan back on the heat momentarily. Remove once the sugar is dissolved and before adding the chocolate.

Add chocolate pieces and stir. The chocolate will begin to melt and the chocolate will appear curdled at the beginning. Don't despair! Keep stirring and it will become smooth.

This chocolate sauce is deliciously thick when warm and gorgeously spreadable when cold. For real sweet tooths, add more sugar.

PC Blue Menu Soybeans

The soybeans were a natural fit with my blog and I realised that, even though we eat beans quite a few different ways, there are no bean recipes on the blog.... there are no caviar recipes either but I digress...

In our house, fast food is a banana, eggs or canned beans. One of my favourite ways of eating beans is cold, with a drizzle of truffle oil and a squeeze of lemon. We love chick peas and kidney beans served this way. The test of these beans, was to try them in the same manner. They turned out to be a perfect plate for the salad since they had a smooth creamy texture.

Soybean Salad

1 can soybeans
one small grated zucchini
one medium grated carrot
sea salt
truffle oil
wedge of lemon

Open can of beans and pour into a colander. Rinse with cold running water. Let them drain. Place beans in small bowl. Drizzle with truffle oil, squeeze lemon and sprinkle sea salt over top. Put on top of bed of grated carrot and zucchini.

Interestingly, my husband preferred to drizzle the PC Omega Oil over his salad. But for me, the combination of beans and truffle oil can't be beat. However, we have been using the Omega Oil for dressing our salads and everyone has enjoyed it.

If I were to add two things to Blue Menu products, the first would be labelling that indicates whether or not an allergen is an ingredient in the natural flavour or colour. In our case, not everyone in our family can eat wheat. Therefore, we have to clearly know whether or not gluten is an ingredient; an ambiguous label is one that I tend to forgo in the grocery store. To the credit of the help line, they were incredibly courteous in answering questions and the few products we questioned did not contain gluten.

The second addition would be to add a box (or several) of the PC Decadent Chocolate Chip cookies to the sample. Er, it has nothing to do with the Blue Menu but everything to do with an ongoing illicit affair that I'm hiding from the celiacs in the family.

I'm shameless.