Saturday, December 20, 2014

Orange dream cookies

After a really hectic period at the office and a work trip, I had the loftiest of intentions to keep up with regular blog posts. Instead, I was laid up for a week and a half with a bad cold I caught on the flight home. An 800 km (!) detour to avoid an Atlantic storm meant even MORE time for my sniffling seat mate to spread his germs. 

But, Christmas gifts are now bought and wrapped, the first round of baking is done (and sampled, many many times over), and most of our Christmas cards are in the mail. Fingers crossed the remainder will make it under the wire!. It was definitely tough waiting to be germ-free to get started on my baking. I couldn't wait to put on some comfy sweats, play Christmas music and spend solo time in my kitchen. 

Those who have followed my Christmas baking posts in earlier years will recognize the base recipes for these cookies. It's fun to start with something tried-and-true, but mix up some ingredients to take them in a new flavour direction. My standby cream cheese shortbread has seen both lemon and lime versions. This year I completed a citrus trifecta!


In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of orange juice to a boil over high high. Then lower the heat slightly and continue boiling until reduced to 1/4 cup.

In a stand mixer, cream together 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter and 3 oz softened cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup of icing sugar and beat hard. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla extract, the reduced orange juice, and the zest of one orange. Gradually add 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Cover and chill the dough in the refrigerator for 20 mins. 

Taking care to handle the dough as little as possible, roll the dough into 1 inch balls, and place on a greased baking sheet. Make an indentation in the dough balls with a fork dipped in icing sugar. Bake at 300F for 25 minutes, or until just starting to colour underneath. 

These cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. The cookies can also be frozen for up to two months.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Pumpkin quickbread

Yes, I am that white girl PSL (pumpkin spice latte) stereotype. Something about this time of year makes me yearn for anything spiced pumpkin. In reality, that usually means the occasional take-out latte or a couple of slices of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and not much more. A year ago, I thought I'd light a fire under my feet by buying... a can of pumpkin pie filling. In reality, it sat in my kitchen cupboard gathering dust for a year. This year I finally got around to used it in a recipe for quick bread I found on pinterest. It was ridiculously easy, didn't take long at all and turned out beautifully moist and tasty.

The recipe specifically calls for a can of pureed pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, instructions I ignored out of necessity. I can't speak to the original version, but I thought it tasted great with the pie version. I'd omitted the spices, thinking there were probably enough in the pie filling, but I think I could have used them anyways. 

Next time I'd like to try some variations on the original: maybe substituting some of the oil for applesauce, and using this bread to make super-decadent French toast, topped with sautéed apples, plus maple syrup or pumpkin pie flavoured whipped cream.


In a stand mixer, blend 2 cups of sugar and one cup of canola oil. Then add 4 eggs, one at a time, blending after each addition. Add a 16 oz can of pumpkin pie pilling and 3/4 cup water.

In a mixing bowl, sift together 3 cups flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp all-spice, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp salt. Pour into two greased pan loaves and bake at 350F for an hour.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cornmeal-crusted cod with beurre blanc and slow-cooked sweet peppers

One Friday night after a very long week at work I wanted to treat myself to a sinfully rich meal. I decided to make beurre blanc, a classic French butter-based sauce made from a reduction of dry white wine, vinegar and shallots, using Cordon Bleu's official recipe. I'd read about cornmeal-crusted pan-fried fish earlier in the week, so I substituted that for my usual flour coating. I topped the fish with leftover slow-cooked sweet peppers for colour and flavour. It was a terrific way to kick off the weekend.


To make the fish:

Pat dry 2 fillets of cod and dredge them in cornmeal before pan-frying in olive oil over medium-high heat (about 4-5 minutes per side). 

To make the sautéed sweet peppers:

Click here for the recipe.

To make the sauce:

Combine 1/4 cup dry white wine, 2T white wine vinegar and 1 finely diced shallot in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce until about 2T of liquid remains. While the liquid is reducing, cut 1 cup of cold butter into small cubes. 

Once the liquid is reduced, add the butter cubes in batches, whisking vigorously. Season to taste. Strain out the shallots using a fine-mesh sieve (optional). 

To serve: 

Spoon the beurre blanc onto the plate, then add the fish. Top with a drizzle of lemon juice, a spoonful of the sweet peppers and a sprinkle of minced chives.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Outsized art

Outerwear is all-important in Ottawa's climate. Everyone tries to get as much mileage as possible out of cute fall coats before we settle in for the long haul of parka wear. As that draws nearer, I've been alternating between this peacoat and a puffer vest layered over a slimmer puffer jacket. 

My friend took these photos during a Saturday afternoon visit to the National Gallery on a grey November day. I hated this spider sculpture, called Maman ('mother' in French), when it was first installed but I've come to really like it. Its legs seem so delicate to be balancing a 30ft x 30ft structure of steel. The underside of the sculpture reveals a sac containing several dozen marble eggs. It's one in a series; others can be found in places like Tate Modern and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Within the gallery, we spent most of our time admiring a gigantic installation called Leaves of Grass, by Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer. It consists of about 13,000 images cut out from old issues of Time Mazagine, mounted onto dried grass sticks. The images are arranged thematically and chronologically, spanning five decades.



 {Leaves of Grass installation - photo source}

{Leaves of Grass installation - photo source}

Coat - Zara, hand-me-down
Skirt - H&M, thrifted
Boots - Ecco
Scarf - Winners
Hat - Joe Fresh
Gloves - Winners
Bag - Leo Monk

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creamy quinoa pasta bake with turkey, shiitake mushrooms and peas

I'm starting to think I need to divide my recipes into weekday and weekend. The cornmeal-crusted cod topped with slow-cooked sweet peppers and beurre blanc I made recently (recipe to come) falls into the latter category while this one falls into the former. Freshly dried sage from our garden was a great addition to this dish. The recipe is my own. Serves 6-8. 


Prepare 500g of quinoa pasta according to directions. 

Drain and transfer into an oven-proof casserole dish. Add 2 jars of Alfredo sauce, 350 g cooked, shredded turkey breast (I cheated and used Costco's frozen cooked variety), 1 can drained peas, 1-1/2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms with the tough part of the stems removed, 2T freshly dried sage and 1/2 tsp pepper. Mix well. Top with 1 cup of shredded gouda, then bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Curried sweet potato and coconut soup with roast chickpeas

If I have to sum up this soup in a word: awesome. If I have to use more words, I'd say: its creamy texture and gentle sweet potato flavour evoke the best of comfort foods, but it's not done playing with your taste buds yet. The flavours soon give way to a delightful spiciness that lingers delightfully on the palate, while roast chickpeas deliver crunch.

I started with this recipe as a way of using up leftover sweet potatoes. The problem was, I already had quadruple the quantity of spuds needed. I was also wary of using three cans of coconut milk, so I decided to substitute vegetable broth for some of the coconut milk. The version below includes these and other tweaks along the way. Makes 8 servings.


Prepare the chickpeas:

Instead of following the recipe's instructions for the chickpeas, I roasted them in the same dressing used in my roasted sweet potato and chickpea salad with couscous, vegetable and honey-chile dressing

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2T apple cider vinegar, 1T honey, 1T orange juice, 1/2T Russian-style mustard, 1 tsp orange zest, 1 tsp sambal oelek, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom and 1/4 tsp salt. Drain one can of chickpeas and toss with the dressing. Spread the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking sheet, then roast at 375 for 40 minutes. (Don't put them on the top rack in your oven to avoid them turning out like some of mine).

Make the broth:

Peel and dice 4 sweet potatoes, 1 sweet onion and 2 cloves garlic, then set aside. Heat 1T oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then add 3T curry powder and 1/2 tsp cayenne. Cook for several minutes to enhance the flavour of the spices. Reduce the heat slightly, then add the onions and sweat them for several minutes, stirring regularly, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Add sweet potatoes and 1 can chickpeas (see note below) and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 1 can coconut milk, 2 - 32oz packages of vegetable broth, 1T sambal oelek, 4 Kaffir lime leaves, 1T salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer for another 25 minutes. Puree the soup using a regular or immersion blender. Serve piping hot topped with roast chickpeas.


I was pleasantly surprised by the creaminess of the end result, but I found the texture a little thin. That's why I'm suggesting adding a can of chickpeas directly to the broth. My caveat is that I have not yet tried this myself!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall girl

Yes, my thrifted Paola Prata jacket is making a repeat appearance in back-to-back posts. The fall colours have been spectacular this year, right until the tail end when these photos were taken. It's one of my favourite times of the year. AI took my cue from the vibrant foliage to build some colour into my outfit. I find the military detailing of the jacket contrasts well with unabashedly feminine pieces. Last time it was a high neck ruffled blouse. This time, I tried a slim patterned scarf and a chiffon skirt. 


Skirt - Vertigo, Winners
Top - Black Label, Saks Off Fifth
Jacket - Paola Prata, thrifted
Scarf - Thrifted
Bag - Dooney and Burke 
Shoes - Aldo, thrifted
Earrings - Ardene
Bracelets - Toronto boutique & hand-me-downs

Monday, November 17, 2014

Carpe diem: Italian tailoring

Carpe diem. That was the name of the third of the four thrift stores I'd pinned to my map of Venice, Italy. It was also the third of four strikeouts: stores that simply didn't exist in reality or were inexplicably closed. I shrugged it off. Brad had been a patient co-navigator, and Venice isn't known for authenticity, especially at a bargain.  

However, soggy weather, a bad dining experience at lunch, and miscellaneous rudeness had us pegging the last day of our honeymoon as a bit of a bust. After regaining our sense of perspective (You're in a city built over a LAGOON celebrating your HONEYMOON with the LOVE OF YOUR LIFE), we wound up stumbling into the best dining experience we had in Venice. I wish I could tell you Trattoria Bar Pontini is off the beaten track, but it's not really. Go for the flamboyant, attentive and utterly charming server who doesn't speak a word of English. Stay for the luscious tiramisu and decent prices.

Coming out of Pontini, we were down to the final 30 minutes of our trip. Lo and behold, right next to the restaurant was a 'luxury thrift' store. The sign didn't say Carpe Diem, but it might as well have. We popped in for the briefest of browses, and I found this impeccably tailored, well-constructed jacket. The brand is Paola Prata, which originally started in a small studio in a town outside Venice, and is now sold in a handful of branded boutiques in Italy. Brad made my day by buying it for me as a souvenir of our trip (see: love of my life, above) and winning over both the saleswoman and me with a spontaneous phrase in Italian (translated for my sake): Neppure lontanamente bella come te. 


Blouse - Banana Republic, hand-me-down
Jacket - Paola Prata, thrifted
Jeans - Guess, Winners
Shoes - Guess, Winners
Earrings - Gift
Bracelet - BHLDN

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Autumnal brined pork tenderloin

Have you ever found yourself at a restaurant, gesticulating wildly toward your plate with your utensils, marvelling aloud about how they got that great flavour right INSIDE the meat? Like, permeating through it? 

For the average home cook, a great way to achieve this is with a brine. In an earlier post, I referenced the SOFA acronym (salt, oil, flavour, acid) that gives you the building blocks for a brine. This recipe is my own; I find it imparts a nice seasonal flavour to the pork. 


Fill a pot with about 16 cups of cold water. Normally the ratio would be about 1 cup salt to this quantity of water, but I found the pork too salty. I would use anywhere between 1/2 cup - 3/4 cup next time. Add 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup brown sugar (the salt-to-sugar ratio is about 3:1)

Add half an onion, peeled and roughly chopped, 1 apple (or 1/4 cup apple juice), roughly chopped (no need to core or peel), 1 cinnamon stick, 2 bay leaves, 1T cloves, and 1T liquid smoke. 

Add two pork tenderloins to the brine, the cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Season with pepper and rub Russian-style mustard into the pork. 

Heat oil in a saute pan over high heat and sear the tenderloins for about 5-6 minutes, turning periodically in the pan until the crust is browned. Then cook in the oven at 400F for about 15 minutes or until the internal temperature registers 160F. Remove from oven, tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. 

I served this dish with roasted brussel sprouts and sweet potato gratin (a recipe I'm still refining before it goes on the blog); however, it could be served with lightly sautéed apples on the side. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hearty Korean-style soup with udon noodles, chicken, tofu and mushrooms

A couple of weeks ago, I was craving Korean-style soup, the kind that's brimming with slippery noodles, tender pieces of tofu and chicken, fresh vegetables, suspended in a spicy broth that can chase away any cold. Not knowing where to start, I turned to youtube and stumbled upon a cute series of how-to cooking videos posted by a Korean mom for her children attending school away from home (aw). I started to get a sense for the ingredients in this type of cuisine and used it to create my own concoction. It was terrific! This makes enough for 8 mains; extras can be frozen. 


The night before - Marinate the chicken and tofu:
Whisk together 1/4 cup soya sauce, 2T sesame oil, 2T sugar, 2T freshly-grated garlic, 1T garlic and 1 tsp sambal oelek. Cut 8 chicken thighs into thin strips and 2 pieces of firm tofu into 1" cubes. Place in separate bowls and pour over marinade. Mix gently to coat, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

The night before - Prepare the broth:
(Alternatively, you could use commercial chicken or vegetable broth.) Roughly chop 1 large carrot, 1 stalk of celery and 1/4 onion. In a stockpot, heat 1T oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring often, until starting to caramelize. Add a rotisserie chicken carcass tied in cheesecloth and a bouquet garni, then add enough water to cover the carcass by several inches. Increase heat to high and bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours. Season with salt and pepper. 

Prepare the filler ingredients:
The next day, peel and slice 2 large carrots, 3/4 onion, 6 green onions and 12 mushrooms. Cut a sheet of dried seaweed (the kind used for sushi) in half, then into thin strips. In a bowl, whisk together 3 eggs. Heat 1 tsp oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the eggs and leave them until set on the bottom. Gently flip and cook the other side. Slide the omelette out of the pan and cut into thin strips. Set everything aside. 

Prepare the soup:
Remove the chicken strips from the marinade, reserving the liquid. In a large saucepot, fry the chicken strips in oil over medium high heat until lightly browned on the outside but still pink on the inside. Add reserved marinade, vegetables and broth, plus 1 cup of kimchi, a couple of chopped anchovies, 2T sambal oelek, 1/2 cup soya sauce and 2T of rice wine vinegar (you can also wait until the end and add each of these to taste). If you need more liquid, add water. Increase heat and bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 20 minutes. Finally, add 3 packages of thick udon noodles and the tofu (and its marinade) and simmer for another 10 minutes. 

Serve with cilantro.