Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Toshikoshi Soba - Year-Crossing Noodles

The holiday season always makes me feel a little bit of a glutton, as I do a lot of sitting around and eating delicious food but very little exercise. With the new year almost here, it's time to get back on track and I was inspired by reading Maki's post at Just Hungry. I love soba noodles, but normally think of them as a summer meal as they are fantastic served cold. This was super tasty and super healthy, and has left me feeling a little bit better about myself.

Toshikoshi Soba (makes 1 serving):
50g soba noodles (mine was wrapped in bundles of 100g)
1 cup/250 ml dashi
1/4 cup/40 ml soy sauce
3 tbsp mirin or sake
2-3 tbsp sugar
toppings of choice

Heat the mirin to a simmer and dissolve the sugar, then add the soy sauce and dashi and heat while the noodles are cooking.

Add the soba to boiling water and cook 4 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water to rinse the starch off and stop them from cooking further. Place the soba in a bowl, add your toppings, and pour the hot soup over. For toppings, I used spinach, bean sprouts, kamaboko, green onion, and bonito flakes because that's what I had in my fridge. Really, you could use whatever comes to mind - I think next time I'll try it with prawns.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Double Chocolate Brownies

As if you haven't had enough sweets by now - I have brownies on the brain! I am always looking for the perfect brownie. I have some vague recollection that at some time in my life I have had one - for me it would be moist and fudgy and not cakelike at all - but I have no clue what recipe would have produced it. I found yet another recipe the other day that promised to produce the best ever brownies, so I gave it a try.

Double Chocolate Brownies:
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chunks
1/2 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts) optional

Combine the cocoa and baking soda with 1/3 cup of melted butter in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until blended. Stir in sugar, eggs and the rest of the butter. Add the flour, vanilla and salt. Stir in the chocolate chunks. Bake in a greased 13 by 9 baking pan at 350 F for 35 minutes or until the brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

They are not quite dense and gooey enough to be perfect in my books, but they are certainly chocolaty and yummy none the less. I am still in search of perfection, but these brownies are pretty darn good.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spanakopita from Scratch

I was chatting last night with my brother's girlfriend, and she was wondering what to do with her days off now that all the holiday stuff was done. I suggested she take some time to stock the freezer to make her life a little easier once she was back at work. I figured that along those lines, I would post one of my favorite freezer recipes. As I have mentioned in the past, I really like making and eating Greek food. Ages and ages ago when Tyler Florence was hosting Food 911 on the Food Network, he featured the following spanakopita recipe, that I have been accepting compliments on ever since. They are a bit labour intensive (it'll take an hour or a bit more), but the results are so good that I keep making them anyway. You can make about 40 small ones, but I like to make dinner sized ones instead, as they take less time and feel more worth the effort.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions, white and green parts
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds fresh baby spinach, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
12 ounces crumbled feta
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp oregano
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
1 pound phyllo pastry sheets
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and place over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic for 3 minutes until soft. Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper, and continue to saute until the spinach is limp. Add lemon juice, remove from heat and place in a colander, and squeeze out excess liquid. Set aside to cool. The filling needs to be cool and dry to prevent the phyllo from becoming soggy. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with feta, coriander, and nutmeg. Season, then fold in the cooled spinach mixture until well blended.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, brush 2 baking sheets with some melted butter. Unroll the phyllo dough and lay a sheet flat on a work surface. Take care to keep the phyllo covered with a damp, not wet, towel as you work to prevent drying out and becoming brittle. Brush the sheet with melted butter, and repeat with 2 more sheets of phyllo, stacking on top of each other. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the sheets lengthwise into halves to form 2 3-inch strips.Place a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of the layered phyllo strip. Fold the end at an angle over the filling to form a triangle. Continue to fold the triangle along the strip until you reach the end, like folding up a flag. Brush the top with butter and dust with Parmesan, place on prepared baking sheet, and cover while preparing the remaining pastries. Repeat until all the filling and phyllo strips are used up. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the triangles are crisp and golden.

Alternately, you can freeze the uncooked triangles, and cook the same way from freezing (may take 5 extra minutes). They freeze so well I love to keep some in my freezer for days when I don't have time to cook, but still want to eat real food.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cranberry Sauce

There was once a time when I hated cranberry sauce, but this is what changed my mind. And it is not for turkey alone! It's also terrific with duck and beef, and makes a great addition to sandwiches when you're consuming the leftovers. I made this a day in advance simply to help save time preparing Christmas dinner, and served it chilled. Usually I prepare it to be ready with the meal, as I prefer it warm.

Cranberry Sauce:
2 bags/700 g fresh cranberries

3/4 cup/165 g sugar
1 bottle/750 ml red wine
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

In a saute pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer uncovered for 1 hour stirring occasionally.


Friday, December 26, 2008

My Favourite Avocado Salad

After many days of eating like a pig, I really felt like having a salad today. This is my favorite salad of all time. It has evolved from the Joey's Diva (Viva now?) salad, but at this point it only has a couple of the original ingredients. I frequently serve it over top of whatever salad greens are in season, but having been by the grocery store the other day, there were not any appealing looking greens to be had. No worries though, the greens are mostly filler anyway.

Avocado Salad (a large salad for one):
1 avocado chopped
1 small pear chopped (apple could substitute for a more crisp taste)
3 dried apricots finely chopped
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
feta to taste
Optional: crispy warm bacon bits (make them, do not shake them out of a container)

To toast the pine nuts, place them on a baking sheet on "broil" and keep an eye on them until they start to brown. This will only take seconds. Top the salad with a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

I am not the kind of person that will eat a pile of greens all by themselves. For me to eat a salad, I like to have some cheese in it and/or nuts and/or meat. With this one, if I throw the bacon bits on it, I get all three. If you are serving this salad at a dinner party, do not make it too far in advance or everything will brown.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Make a Different Sandwich

As mentioned yesterday, I love going to the Italian Centre Shop to pick up meat and cheese from the deli. This visit, I went with the prosciutto as my meat choice, and an old, sharp, white cheddar as my cheese. I also grabbed a nice looking mini ciabatta, and a delicious sandwich was a brewin'. All that was needed to round it out was something sweet, and something tangy.

The something sweet took a little bit of effort. I grabbed an apple from the crisper, cut it in half, peeled it, and cut it into slices. I sprayed a pan with cooking spray, to make sure my apple slices wouldn't stick, and then arranged them in a single layer and popped them in the oven. They only take a couple of minutes and you can tell by looking at them that they have softened up (the colour changes to look like a "cooked" apple).

Once the apples were ready, I layered up everything else: prosciutto, apple then cheddar, and added Dijon mustard spread on the top half to provide the something tangy. Pop the whole sandwich back into the oven so that the cheese melts and the sandwich feels like a hot lunch.

Each of the ingredients has such a different and fairly strong flavor, but together they compliment each other very nicely, and are a good change from a plain old ham and cheese.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Italian Centre Shop - Can I Move In?

This Sunday I had some time to kill, so I drove on down to the Italian Centre Shop. My husband hates grocery shopping with me because I wander around slowly looking at everything - even things I have no intention of buying. The Italian Center magnifies this impulse for me. Even though it is only about six or seven aisles, I can very easily take 45 minutes to an hour doing my shopping, no problem.

Usually my prime reason for going is the deli. The deli is a magical place, with a huge variety or meats and cheeses, both local and imported, at very reasonable prices. Also, the turnover is high, especially on the weekends, so you don't have to worry quite as much that an unusual type of deli meat has been sitting there forever. Additionally, there are a number of delicacies, such as olives, marinated vegetables and seafood. It is a good thing for me to go on the weekend when it is busy enough that I have to take a number, so that I have an excuse to wander along and eye everything.

The deli isn't the only thing the Centre Shop has to offer though. It carries so many different and special items throughout the store that it would be a shame not to do a good shop there every time you go. They post news articles around in some areas, highlighting products of interest. Today I almost bought some mango sorbet based on the article posted beside it, even though it is freezing out. I decided to hold off until summer on that one, but there were numerous other treasures that were more practical purchases and did get made. The freezer section has frozen homemade ravioli in tons of different varieties, the jam section has jams of all types, not just raspberry and strawberry, but lingonberry, fig, and plum (used to make my duck glaze). You can get fresh ciabatta, all sorts of dried beans and lentils, European sodas, and chocolates (in case you love Milkas like I do!). The produce prices are very reasonable, and again, there are some different offerings like figs and shallots on a regular basis.

Now that it is almost Christmas time, there is a section of suggested gift items, and I think a basket of food goodies would be a very nice gift for the foodie in your life. There was also a musician in store, and a taste test set up with little cups of crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano with walnuts and honey - a delicious treat to tide me through my shopping.

The Italian Centre Shop is the kind of place a foodie can happily wander through all day long!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Quaint Quail Eggs

This week was Christmas Pot Luck at work and I wanted to make something that is tasty, quick, and not going to break the bank. It's also a little different from the usual fare, which I always enjoy. Most of the people I know have never tried quail eggs, but they're pretty much just like regular eggs - only cuter!

Put 24 eggs in a large saucepan of simmering water and cook for 5 minutes. While they are cooking, make the salt dip(s) by just grinding all ingredients together using a mortar & pestle or spice grinder.

Sesame Salt:
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 tsp sea salt

Coriander Salt:
2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted until fragrant (~2 min) in a fry pan
1 1/2 tbsp sea salt
1 tsp demerara sugar

When the eggs are done, drain, then run cold water over the eggs to stop them from cooking. It's easiest to peel them now, under the running water. The shells are a bit thicker than regular eggs, so the peeling is what takes the longest as you want to keep them looking pretty. I made these the night before and used the egg tray to transport & serve them at work, and stuck toothpicks in them to serve. Easy peasy!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Duck Showstopper - Plum and Fig Glazed

I have been going through a duck phase lately. It's gotten so bad that I have actually used the term "ducklicious" more than once in the past week. Clearly, I was thrilled to discover that Sobey's has duck products! I assume it is just for the holiday season, but in the freezer section, whole duck and duck breasts were available this past weekend (and possibly still) at the Sobey's in St. Albert. Usually I have to head down to the Sobey's Urban Fresh to get the duck breasts they bring in from Green Eggs and Ham, and that is a bit of a trek for me. Not only did I find these nearby, but the price ($4-7 depending on the size) was pretty reasonable. The ones shown in the pictures below were the $4 ones, so plenty large in size.

I served the duck with duck fat roasted potatoes (instructions in the previous duck post), and green beans in a dressing that I will post about in the future.

The first step in preparing the meal is to sear the skin side of the breasts. Start by scoring the skin so that when you sear it, the heat can get in and reduce the layer of fat between the skin and the meat. Heat up a skillet until it is very hot, and put the duck breasts in skin side down. Be very careful during this step not to burn yourself with splattering fat. It is like cooking bacon that way. Leave the breasts on the heat until they look crisp and golden. Take off the heat and place in a baking dish until you are about 10 minutes away from being finished dinner. Leave the fat in the skillet to roast the potatoes.

Prepare all your side dishes, and start on the glaze. The glaze is very quick seeing as it is thick enough that it does not require reduction. Thinly slice some shallots and caramelize them. You will need to combine equal parts plum jam, fig jam, whole grain mustard and the onions that you have caramelized. Once the shallots are done, add in the remaining parts and warm until it just barely simmers.

When you are 10 minutes from being ready to go with the rest of the dinner, throw the duck breast in to the oven at 400 F for 10 minutes. When it is ready, slice it into medallions, and top with the glaze. If you have left over glaze, it is also very nice on pork. As with a number of good pairings, the key here is having the sweet elements - caramelized onions, fig and plum - balanced by the tart mustard.

This dish is easy and fast, but it seems so sophisticated that people will think you slaved over it. For me, the best part is that you can prep it with the searing, and then just finish it later that day when the rest of your meal is almost done. It also looks great plated, so it is a good choice when you want to be fancy and plate dinner instead of serving it family style.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Our Top 5 Gadgets (each!)

These are great foodie gadgets that would be perfect for gifts or stocking stuffers!

Brooke's Top 5 (+1):

1. Cooking Chopsticks - They replace a bunch of tools as they can be used for mixing, flipping/grabbing, or piercing.
2. Scale - Invaluable! It gives me the ability to try European recipes and is great for controlling portion sizes.
3. Mini Nesting Bowls - I love creating a mise en place when I cook, and using these means I can have everything ready to go.
4. Microplane - What did I do before I had this? It perfectly grates peel, cheese, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, etc. etc.
5. Mortar & Pestle - This is great because I make my own salad dressings, and it works for rubs and marinades as well.
6. Assortment of Rice Moulds - I eat rice several times a week, often for lunch. These make it so easy to create portable, freezable snacks.

Court's Top 5:

1. Veggie Keeper - It really does help my garden veggies last way longer, which is invaluable for me since garden stuff is like gold.
2. Thermometer - Needed to make sure meat is cooked since I don't roast often with just two of us eating, so I don't know meat cook times.
3. Spaghetti Measure - I love it because I am terrible at estimating volume.
4. BBQ Skewers (really all BBQ tools) - These are perfect because I BBQ all summer since we don't have air conditioning, so I can have veggies done BBQ'd too.
5. Mini Food Processor - It is great for making pesto, grinding nuts, and doing anything that the big one does with smaller clean up and a smaller price tag.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kai Restaurant - Just Nice

Just got back from lunch at Kai, the new restaurant in the Associated Engineering Building on 109th and Jasper. It has been getting a lot of buzz given it's prominent location and the fact that people have been watching it get ready to open since the first sign (calling it Tao) was up. A group of friends had tried going there already, but were told that no reservations were taken on Friday or Saturday nights, so a friend and I decided to hit it up one day for lunch in hopes that it wouldn't be so busy.

Walking towards it from the meter I parked at along 109th, it smelled delicious, and I thought, oh I hope I am catching a whiff of my future lunch. As I came in to the restaurant, it was a lot bigger than I expected. There is the front bit that has nice big windows, letting the sun in during the day, but then there is a much larger "bar" portion that continues into the back, including an area that would function as a "private dining room" with sheer curtains setting it apart from the rest. The decor is lovely, lots of wood, black, dim lighting, and a huge Bhudda statue along one wall. The waiters and waitresses are of the "Joey's" variety (i.e. young, attractive and all dressed in black), but a bit edgier perhaps? Although the weekday lunch crowd is predominantly people working downtown and out of the government buildings near-by, I have been told that on the weekend, hipsters turn out to eat, drink and mingle, dressed up to make the scene. We sat in the restaurant area, and if you do as well, avoid the booths right by the door as it gets a bit breezy if there are people going in and out.

The menu is not quite what I expected. I had figured there would be a lot of fusion type dishes, mixing a variety of unusual ingredients using different styles of asian and western cooking. In fact, the menu seems more designed to hit the middle of the road as far as tastes go. There are not a huge number of choices, but those that are there are probably going to be crowd pleasers for people who always like to have their favourites available. Standard asian dishes such as beef and broccoli, kung pow and butter chicken are available atop steamed rice. There are some noodle bowls, appetizers such as calamari, prawns and chicken wings, and additional "bowls" and sandwiches that offer minor flavour twists (such as lemongrass chicken club), but nothing that I found sounded so interesting that I had to find out what it would taste like. The salad section had a duck and orange salad that I considered (since I love duck), but nothing else really out of the ordinary. The sushi menu was brief, again with the typical choices: salmon, tuna, california roll, and dynamite roll, most available as maki, sushi or in a cone. I did not have to read the descriptions to see what was contained in any of them.

We decided to split a few choices, to give more than one dish a try. Between the two of us we got the salt and pepper calamari with chili aioli, the mexican rolls (we asked for the spicy tuna mini maki, but mexican rolls are what came), and the special bowl of the day which was a coconut curry bowl with chicken, peppers, onions and palm with coriander and pine nuts to top. The calamari was good, and cooked very well, which can be tough. I have had many experiences with calamari that has been over cooked and is therefore rubbery. The dipping sauce was also lovely - spicy and flavourful, but not searingly hot.

The curry bowl was nice. Everything was cooked properly. I actually felt this dish is the kind of dish I would expect to see at Lazia - rice, topped with a standard group of veggies, meat (chicken in this case), and a nice but mild sauce. Topping a curry with pine nuts is a bit different, and I did like that, same goes for including the palm.

Finally, the sushi. Again, it was good, but not unreal. I guess it started off as an underdog seeing as the mexican roll has tempura bits in it, and I prefer not having that in my maki rolls (it tarnishes the illusion I have that sushi is basically as good for me as vegetables). It was a bit spicy, but I think it would have seemed more spicy had it not been for the tempura and cucumber cooling it down. I would be interested to go back again and try their regular sushi or sashimi to get a better feel for the quality of the sushi. I found it strange that the sushi is sold in groups of 3 pieces as opposed to by the piece or in pairs of two (which would make it more conducive to even sharing).

Price wise, starters ranged around $10 and mains went up to about $15. I took a quick glance at the dinner menu, and it had similar offerings, with a few more choices, and entrees instead of additional bowls and sandwiches, but with basically the same flavours as the lunch menu.

The thing is, it is a really attractive space, and all the food was nice, but my expectation was that I would be eating meals that were innovative and unusual. Instead I felt like I was eating dishes that I had seen before, albeit done well. In my opinion, this restaurant will be competing with Joey's, Earls and even Suede Lounge for clientele based on price point, atmosphere and food. Again, not a bad thing, just not what I was expecting. It will likely become a popular spot for dinner and drinks for people heading out on the town afterwards.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mandarin Almond Cake

This cake is moist, delicious, and dense. And, if you care, gluten-free. How can a cake be so good when it has neither butter nor flour? I'm not sure, but this one certainly is! While it's not for the kiddies, it will definitely go over well with the adults - it is also terrific for entertaining as it serves at least 10. Because it is so rich, you really only need a small slice.

Mandarin Almond Cake:
3 mandarins (seedless)
1 cup/250g sugar or caster sugar
6 eggs
2 cups/230g ground almonds

Caramelized Zest Topping:
1/4 cup/60g sugar or caster sugar
1/4 cup/60 ml water
zest of 2 oranges

Put the mandarins in a saucepan with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 hours, ensuring there is always water covering the mandarins. When done, drain and cool, then cut into quarters and puree them (skin on) in a food processor. Whisk the sugar and eggs together, then stir in the mandarin puree and the almonds.

Preheat your oven to 315F/160C and pour the batter into a greased 24cm/9" springform pan. Bake for 1 hour until set. You'll be able to tell when it's done when the middle springs back when you touch it. Allow to cool in the tin.

For the topping, dissolve the sugar in the water and then add the orange zest. Boil together until it just starts to caramelize (it will start to get sticky), then remove the zest and let it cool.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sweet Flatbread

As mentioned before, flatbreads are a staple for me when it comes to lunch. This one admittedly is a rip off of a quesadilla my friend Kat made me once, but it's such a nice combination, it is one of my favorites now too. It doesn't hurt that the colours make it look beautiful as well. I feel more cheerful just seeing it come out of the oven. Seeing as I bought a big box of mangos from Superstore this past summer when they were about $3 for the whole box (12 big mangos), I still have tons of frozen mango chunks at my disposal. You can also use bagged frozen mango, or dried mango if you don't have any fresh.

To start, julienne some onion and red pepper and spread them evenly over the pita. Chop the mango however you can, it won't julienne very easily if it is nice and juicy and ripe, and add it on top. Finally, thinly slice some brie and arrange to cover. Pop it in the oven at 350 for about five minutes (or until the cheese gets nice and gooey), and enjoy! The red pepper and mango are very sweet, but in different ways, and the onion help cut that a bit so it doesn't get sickly sweet. The brie is lovely with the sweet and savory combination.


Monday, December 15, 2008


I've been searching forever for a naan recipe that is both easy (since I'm am certainly no expert when it comes to making bread) and near-equivalent to restaurant goodness. Luckily, I've found one that is both! The other week when I made Cashew Butter Chicken, I served this with it and the girls devoured almost all of them. While the quantities below will make enough for at least 10 people (if you each only want a couple), I tried freezing some of the dough and pulling it out a few days later and it still worked like a charm.

1 pkg/7g active dry yeast
1 cup/250 ml warm water
1/4 cup/55g sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups/435g plain flour
1/4 cup/60ml butter or margarine, melted

Dissolve the yeast in the water and let stand 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir the yeast with the sugar, milk, egg, and salt, then add enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth, then place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place for around 1 hour, until it has doubled in size. When ready, punch down the dough and pinch off small 3cm rounds of dough and roll into balls. Place these on a tray and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place for around 30 minutes - this works particularly well in a warming drawer.

Preheat a frying pan or grill to medium-high, and start rolling out the dough balls. The thinner you roll them, the more bubbly and naan-like they get. Brush some melted butter in the pan and cook the dough for 2-3 minutes until puffy. Before turning over, brush the uncooked side with butter and cook another 2-3 minutes. Repeat until done.

Freezing tip: After the second rise, you can put the dough balls in a freezer bag to enjoy at a later date. When you pull them out, just let defrost to room temperature and then roll them.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Venison Stew: Delicious for You

I love that a number of the farmer's markets around the city continue to operate through the winter. In fact, the St. Albert one joined that list finally this year. A couple of weekends ago, I hit up the Old Strathcona market, mostly just to wander around and get some pyrogies. As I wandered, I was drawn to a number of the stands selling meat. I am without a doubt a carnivore, and I do not limit myself to chicken and beef. I love looking for something a little different to give a try, and on this particular visit, it was destined to be venison.

I have never worked with venison before, so I randomly picked a package of "stir-fry" pieces. They looked very lean, and the gentleman at the stand gave me a little leaflet with tips on how to cook it (also detailing benefits of the meat he was selling - I love buying from the guy who can actually tell you how your meat was raised!). I tossed the bag in the freezer and waited to get an idea.

Well, as I keep pointing out in my posts, it is cold out now. The weather has a very significant impact on the kind of foods I want to eat. Yet another good cold weather choice for working ladies (not THAT kind of working lady), or working men for that matter, is stew made in the slow cooker. The idea came to me on the weekend, so Sunday morning, I took the venison and a pack of four pieces of bacon out of the freezer to defrost. Sunday evening, after my soccer game, I got a start on it to save myself from an early Monday morning.

Venison Stew (serves 3-4 or 2 until stuffed and a good sized lunch):
1 package of meat for stir fry (same size as the pack of stir fry beef or chicken bits that are in the grocery store)
4 slices of bacon
1/2 onion chopped
10-15 button mushrooms chopped
2 tbsp wine (red will go better, but I would use white in a pinch)
1/2 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
A good handful of green beans chopped
2 good sized potatoes cut in half and then into 1 cm thick pieces
2-3 cups beef stock
2 tbsp flour

First slice up the bacon and brown it in a large frying pan. I start with the bacon so that everythingelse gets to be cooked in the delicious bacon fat (especially since the venison is so lean, good to add some fat back if it is going to be cooking all day). Put it off to the side to cool on a plate. The venison gets browned next and put on the plate as well. I set the liquid it produces to the side to be added back later. Finally toss in the onions and mushrooms and brown them a bit too and set aside to cool.

Grab a tupperware container, throw all the ingredients you just browned, and the liquid that came off the meat in with the thyme, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Swirl the wine in the pan to loosen up any remaining flavored bits stuck to the bottom and drizzle it over top. Put it all in the fridge until morning. Slice up the potatoes and green beans and put them in a tupperware, cover with water and put them in the fridge too without cooking (if you are making this in the morning, the fridge part isn't necessary, it is just so I don't have to get up early to prepare things before work).

When morning comes, toss your two containers of stuff into the slow cooker, and add stock as necessary to cover everything. Flick it on to low heat and head out for the day. Try not to spend all day obsessing about the magical goodness that you will be arriving home to. If the stew is still very liquidy when you get home, crank the heat to the high setting and dust in a bit of the flour. Cook uncovered for an extra half hour so that the sauce has a chance to reduce and thicken.

Don't forget to take the bay leaves out. Serve up in bowls with bread on the side so that you can mop up the gravy at the end. My husband actually said "that was good" at the end of this meal, which amounts to rave reviews from a generally silent guy like him.


Cold Kickin' Chicken Soup

My sister was coming over for dinner the other night, and she (like everyone else these days) is suffering through a cold. I figured I would make her some soup in hopes that it would help her feel better. Chicken Noodle soup is the standard cold cure food, but I thought I could kick up its cold fighting powers and add some flavor at the same time by throwing in some items high in vitamin C, like red pepper and lemon.

Chicken Soup:
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
4-5 cups chicken stock
1 Bunch fresh Thyme (bound into a bouquet)
1 large leek finely chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 red pepper minced
2 tbsp white wine
1/2 lemon (use the zest and juice)

Start the stock simmering in a pot with the thyme bouquet submerged. Cut the chicken breast into smaller pieces, and cook in olive oil in a frying pan. Once cooked, remove from heat. Saute the leeks, garlic and red pepper in the same pan for a couple of minutes. Mince the chicken further if needed, and add the chicken and sauted vegetables to the stock. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan (swirl it around to get all the flavor) and pour it into the the stock. Add the lemon zest and juice, and simmer for about half an hour. Remove the thyme bouquet and serve.

If you like noodles add them during the simmering as per their cook time. I didn't add them this time because I was looking to make more of a hearty broth with just the protein, not additional carbs, just in case the cold was decreasing her appetite.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cashew Butter Chicken

I love Indian food in the way most white people love it - that is, I love Butter Chicken and Lamb Korma. This recipe is fragrant but not too spicy for the curry novice - though you can certainly increase the curry if you like (I normally do when I'm cooking for myself). It's very easy to increase/decrease portions, and if you run out of something you can usually just substitute something else without affecting the resulting deliousness.

Cashew Butter Chicken: (serves 4 generously)
4 tbsp/60g clarified butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 onions, minced
1 tbsp curry paste
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
750g boneless chicken thighs, in 2 cm cubes
60g ground cashews
1 cup/250 ml heavy cream
1/3 cup/85 ml coconut milk
1 tbsp tomato paste (optional)

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat until it separates; at this point you can skim off the top to make clarified butter (but I usually don't bother). Add the onions and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the curry paste, coriander, and nutmeg and cook for 2 minutes, then add the chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the cream, coconut milk, and cashews (and the tomato paste if you want the colour a bit darker) and stir in. Bring this to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.

You can change this up a bit - I've tried it with ground almonds instead of cashews and I often replace the nutmeg with cumin, and Court usually uses curry powder rather than paste. I find I end up with a darker curry if I use a regular fry pan rather than a non-stick. I served this with naan and "a little bit Indian" brown rice (as I ran out of basmati) which I made by tossing 2 cardamom pods and a 1/2 stick cinnamon into the rice cooker with the rice.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Edmonton Restaurant Listing

I hate it when I want to go out for dinner, and cannot think of a place to go, especially since there are so many restaurants that I have never tried before. Assuming that I am not the only that has this problem, I have assembled a big list of Edmonton Restaurants (this will be perma-linked on the sidebar for easy access).

I have left out chains such as the Keg, Sorentinos, Earls etc. not to say they are not good, but just because most people are well aware of their existence and location. I have included some coffee houses, but I have generally not included pubs. Just had to draw the line somewhere - and it ends up being pretty arbitrary. If you have an addition, please comment and we will add the ones that work.


Fiore Cantina Italian
Upper Crust Cafe
Remedy Cafe
Hilevel Diner Cafe
Cafe Mosaics
The Sugar Bowl Cafe
Friends & Neighbors Cafe
Dadeo Cajun/Creole
Kyoto Japanese
Continental Treat European
Yokozuna Japanese
Murrieta's West Coast Grill
Chianti's Cafe and Restaurant Italian
Julios's Barrio Mexican
The King and I Thai
Yiannis Tavera Greek Restaurant
New Asian Village East Indian
Langano Skies Ethiopean
Unheardof Fine Dining
Doan's Vietnamese
Culina Local/Fusion
Padthai Thai
Packrat Louie North American
Von's Steakhouse
Accent Lounge French
New York Bagel Cafe
Tasty Tom's North American
Furusato Japanese
Route 99 Diner
Friends' Nest Eatery Cafe
Tokyo Noodle House Japanese
Sabzy Cafe Persian
Passa Tempo
Flavours Bistro
Maki Maki Japanese/Vietnamese


Mikado Japanese
Characters Fine Dining
Khazana East Indian
Haweli East Indian
La Ronde Fine Dining at Chateau Lacombe
Cosmos Greek
Blue Willow Asian
The Copper Pot Fine Dining
It's all Greek to Me See our Review
Doan's Vietnamese
Il Pasticcio Italian
Blue Nile Ethiopian
Los Comales Central American
Sofra Turkish
Hardware Grill Fine Dining
L'Azia Fusion
Blue Plate Diner
That's Aroma Italian
Allegro Italian
Madison Grill Fine Dining at Union Bank Inn hotel
Lux Steakhouse
Cafe Select Fine Dining See our review
The Lingnan Cantonese
Rigolettos Italian See our review
The Free Press Bistro Paninis See our review
Eastbound Japanese
Wildflower Grill Fine Dining at Matrix Hotel
Soul Soup See our review
Bua Thai
Kyoto Japanese
Boualong Laos & Thai
Boun Thai
Kai Asian/Fusion See our review
The Hat Restro Pub (formerly the Silk Hat)
The Creperie French
Pradera Cafe Regional at the Westin Hotel
The Harvest Room Regional at the Hotel MacDonald
Sabor Divino Fine Dining
Xtremeasian Fusion Fusion
Shine Bistro Weekday Lunch
Three Bananas Cafe

East Central:

Red Ox Inn Fine Dining See our review
Culina Highlands Local/Fusion See our review
La Boheme French
Skinny Legs and Cowgirls Bistro
Sweet Mango Vietnamese and Thai

West Central:

The Blue Pear Fine Dining
Koutouki Greek
Brewsters North American
Ziveli Greek
Gabbana See our review
Manor Cafe Fine Dining
Cafe De Ville Fine Dining
Louisiana Purchase Cajun/Creole
Normand's Fine Dining
Glenora Bistro See our review
The Dish Bistro See our review
4th and Vine Bistro See our review
Rose Bowl Pizza
Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria
Urban Diner See our review
Taste of Ukraine
Mangiamos Italian
Sicilian Pasta Kitchen Italian
Colonal Mustard's Café See our review
Acajutla Mexican and Salvadorean
Suede Lounge
Wild Tangerine Fusion
Matahari Asian
Tesoro Caffe Italian Café See our review
D'Lish Healthy Lunch


Delux Burger BarSee our review
Il Forno Italian
Vi's for Pies Café
Syrtaki Greek
Chop Steakhouse
New Asian Village East Indian
Fife n' Deckel Lunch
Red Piano Cajun
Jeffrey's Cafe and Wine Bar
Homefire Grill North American
Tropika Malaysian
Gini's French/Fine Dining
Tasty Tomato Italian
Piccolino Italian
La Shish Lebanese
Sage (at the River Cree) Fine Dining/Steakhouse See our review
Ichiban Japanese
Mexico Lindo Mexican
Cactus Club Cafe North American See our review


Parkallen Restaurant Lebanese
Syphay Restaurant Thai
Indian Grill & Banquets
Jack's Grill Fine Dining
Jewel of Kashmir East Indian
Century Grill
The Moose Factory Steakhouse
Blue Chair Cafe
Tropika Malaysian
Billingsgate Seafood
Sicilian Pasta Kitchen South Italian
Mikado South Japanese
Barb and Ernies German
Whole Earth Cafe
New Asian Village East Indian
Saratoga North American
Yokozuna Japanese
Fresh Start Bistro and Bakery
BotaniCa at the Delta hotel
The Bauerschmaus Restaurant
Healthy Fare See our Review
Melting Pot See our Review


Spago Portugese
Ernests at Nait Culinary School Restaurant
L'Azia Fusion
The Dawg Father
Colours at Northlands Track
Handy Bakery Bakery/Lunch Spot
El Rancho Spanish/Salvadorean
123 Thai and Lao Noodle House
Habesha Ethopian
Popular Bakery Portuguese

St. Albert:

Koto Japanese
Nello's Italian
Haweli East Indian
Riverhouse Grill Fine Dining
Cajun House Cajun/Creole
Thai Mekong See our Review
Luisa Ristorante Italian
Antoni's Greek
Ohana-Ya Japanese
Saigon Garden Vietnamese
Avocado Mexican
Cricket's Cafe Family/Casual
Capital Pizza and Steak House Family/Casual
Jimmy's Restaurant Family/Casual
Nirvana East Indian
Pho Anh Sang Vietnamese
Socrates Family/Casual
La Crema Caffe Lunch/Coffee
Soup and Sandwich Shack Lunch


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Stroganoff for a Cold Winter Night

I know this is nothing compared to how cold it is going to get later in winter, but I am FREEZING!!! I had some meatballs in the freezer that my mom gave me when I was sick a while ago, so I pulled them out for a hot comfort food supper on a night when both my husband and I were working. I got home in the evening, and had dinner for two (and a packed lunch) made less than half an hour later. Pasta is a pretty safe bet for a quick hot meal. I started the water boiling right away so that it would be ready for pasta when I was ready to count down to dinner, and then I got working on my sauce.

Stroganoff Sauce: (sauce for about 4)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup sour cream

Once I have finished all my chopping, I put my pasta on so it will be ready close to the same time as the sauce.

In a large frying pan or electric fryer sauté the onions and mushrooms in the butter until the mushrooms start to brown a little. Take the heat off, and dust the mixture with 1 1/2 tbsp of the flour. Mix it until it is all well combined. Return the pan to heat, and add the beef broth, stirring it in a little at a time so that the flour does not separate. Allow it to thicken for a minute or two. Stir the last 1/2 tbsp of flour into the sour cream, and add that mixture to the rest of the sauce. Finally, add the meatballs and cover them with sauce so that they defrost/warm up quickly (about 5 minutes).


Monday, December 8, 2008

Quickest Cake Ever

Sometimes, when you want cake, you want it now. This recipe is perfect, as the cake only takes 5 minutes to make! The texture is more like a traditional British pudding than a cake, and it's very easy to make variations. Add some cocoa, espresso, chocolate chips (or, for me, crystallized ginger chips), or anything you like really. You can also serve it with custard or ice cream instead of the fruit topping. This cake is best served hot out of the microwave.

5 Minute Cakes:
1/2 cup/4oz butter or margarine
1/2 cup/4oz sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup/4oz self-raising flour
(or 3/4 cup plain flour + 1/2 tsp baking powder + pinch baking soda)

Fruit Topping:
1 1/2 cups frozen berry mixture, defrosted & drained
1/2 cup/125ml red wine (or more)
1/2 cup/4oz sugar

Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour until just blended - be careful not to overmix. Divide the batter into 3-4 greased ramekins and microwave on high for around 3 minutes. This will burn in the centre quite easily, so be careful not to overcook it. When you take it out, the edges should look a bit glossy and uncooked.

This topping takes longer to make than the cakes, so you may want to start this first. Put the defrosted berries and wine into a small pan and bring to a boil. Add the sugar slowly, and cook until the mixture has reduced by half - this will take a while. If you're having problems getting it to thicken, add a 1/2 tsp of corn starch.

An even quicker way to make a single portion is to divide the recipe by 3 and make the batter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup - then it can be put directly into the microwave to cook. This is only for the truly desperate!


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Duck Confit

I have been reading French Leave by John Burton Race. It is a book based on his experience of moving to Montferrand, France for a year with his family to learn about rural French cooking, and was also done as a TV show on the Food Network. Seeing as I love French food (what's not to love about a culture that worships food and never uses the low fat version of anything), reading it is making me salivate almost to the point of choking. The book is divided up by season, and then the second half has all the recipes for the food he has been writing about. Yay! I too can eat duck now in at least three different ways. This past Sunday I decided to give the Duck Confit a go. The recipe is very simple, the only hitch is that the cooking time is 2 hours, which would make it a no go for me on a week night. It definitely fit the bill though for a Sunday afternoon when I didn't want to leave the house.

This dish did take some planning, because I don't keep duck in my freezer, and none of the local grocery sto
res carry it regularly enough for me to look close by. Off I went on Saturday morning to T&T Asian grocery in West Edmonton Mall. I know that they almost always have duck legs, and indeed they did.

Duck Confit (for two):
2 duck leg and thigh quarters
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 juniper berries

I never have juniper berries, but I do usually have gin, and since gin is flavored with juniper berries, a splash of it is a fine substitute. Saturday afternoon I rubbed the duck with all of the aromatics, and left it overnight to marinade. Burton Race indicates that even he will just marinate for a few hours if he doesn't think of it the night before, so do the best you can.

Two hours before eating time, rinse off all the rub by running the duck under cold water, then toss it in a baking pan or roaster for two hours. That is seriously the end of the instructions. I told you it is not as hard as it sounds.

I also made potatoes roasted in duck fat to accompany it, since I rarely have the duck fat to work with. I sliced up potatoes (about a centimeter thick), and then about 20 minutes before the duck was done, took out the roaster and ladelled some of the fat into a skillet.

The potatoes take about 8-10 minutes a side on medium heat to get nice and brown and crispy. If you do not like them quite so crispy, just keep an eye on them and turn them when they are brown enough for your liking. They should all be arranged in a single layer, and I rinsed them before putting them in the fat so that with the lid on, there would be some steam created.

You can serve the duck legs just roasted, but I shredded the meat off seeing as duck confit is frequently served this way, and I preserved the leftover meat by packing it in it's own fat.

Duck cooked in it's own fat served with potatoes cooked in duck fat may seem a bit on the unhealthy side, but as Burton Race states, this is all part of the French paradox of fatty foods, and a low incidence of heart disease. It is thought that the type of fat present in most French foods is better because it is natural saturated fat as opposed to hydrogenated and trans fats. I will leave that to you to decide, but when it comes to duck, there is no arguing that the fat is delicious! None the less, I do like serving the above with a side salad.


Friday, December 5, 2008


I had mentioned to Court a few days ago that I wanted to post a butternut squash soup recipe, and she said she'd been thinking the same thing. The next logical step was to have a soup-off, so we met up last night at Court's place. The result - a draw!

Court's Curry Squash Soup: pictured top right
half a squash (used butternut)
olive oil
half an onion
one clove garlic
2 cups/500ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup/62ml coconut milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste

Brush the squash with olive oil, and roast it at 350F/180C for 30-40 minutes (until tender and cooked through). While the squash is roasting, saute the onions and garlic until soft. Put the squash, onions and garlic into your blender with half a cup of the stock and puree until smooth. Pour it into your soup pot with the remaining stock and coconut milk and mix until consistent. Add the spices as indicated, or to taste. The curry flavor as written is fairly subtle. Top with a garnish of sour cream.

Brooke's Squash Soup: pictured top left
1 squash (used kabocha - 1.25 kg)
1 tbsp melted margarine, salt & pepper
2.5-3.5 cups/625-875ml chicken or vegetable stock (or more)
2-3 tsp grated ginger
1/2 cup/125ml heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste

De-seed the squash and cut it into 2 inch cubes. Put it on a plate or a microwave-safe dish, brush with melted margarine, and season with salt & pepper. Microwave it on high for 4-6 minutes until soft - I did this in two batches as I had a lot of squash. Let it cool down a bit, and then peel the squash. Put the squash into a pot with the ginger, adding the stock a bit at a time. Puree using an immersion (stick) blender. Add enough stock to bring it to your desired consistency and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and add the cream, then return to a simmer. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

If you don't want to cook the squash in the microwave, it can be roasted as per Court's instructions, and if you don't have an immersion blender it can be pureed in a blender or food processor. As I love ginger I used a lot of it, but this could be taken down a bit or you could substitute your own favourite seasoning.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bestest Chewiest Gingersnaps

I love, love, love ginger in all forms. Crystallized or fresh, sweet or savoury - you name it, I'll eat it. (Ginger ice cream is my absolute favourite!) This will also mean you'll be seeing it in a lot of my posts. Though I love these cookies, I don't make them often as they are more labour intensive than I like. But of all the recipes for gingersnaps I've tried, this is the only one that will produce a perfect soft cookie.

3/4 cup/170g margerine (block-type)
1 cup/200g packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup/80g molasses
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups/280g plain flour
sugar to coat

Mix the first four ingredients together in your mixer or by hand, then add the baking soda, spices, and salt and stir to combine. Mix in the flour until just combined. Put the bowl in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour, as it is a lot easier to roll into balls when the dough is cold.

It's best to have a few baking sheets on the go, because forming the cookies takes some time. Shape the dough into 2cm (3/4 inch) balls, and roll in the sugar to coat. Put the tray on the centre shelf of your oven and bake for 8-9 minutes at 350F/180C. These will look slightly undercooked when t
hey come out, but that's what keeps them moist. Let rest for a minute, then move to newspaper or a wire rack to cool. This recipe makes about 2-3 dozen, so I normally make a double batch as they don't last very long!