Sunday, December 29, 2013

Leek and Gruyère tart

Quick! Name ingredients used in lots of French cooking. 

If you said cheese, butter, heavy cream, salt, you'll understand why this dish is a total showpiece. The filling for this tart was basically transposed from my Cordon Bleu cookbook right onto this page. Its real name is tarte aux maroilles et aux poireaux. Maroilles is a cheese you may find at a specialty store, but otherwise, Gruyère is a good substitute.  The leeks are 'sweated' in butter until they relinquish their bitterness, leaving just a hint of mild onion flavour, and tons of texture in contrast to the gooey cheese.

Spring is the best time to make this dish, where leeks are in season and aplenty, but I made this as a pre-Christmas treat for my parents.I cheated and used a store-bought crust this time, but if you want to go the whole nine yards, I've included a link to crust directions below. This would be a nice side dish to serve with ham. This recipe is designed to make one tart, but these freeze well if you want to double the recipe and save one for later. 


To make filling: 

To make, slice 3 extra-large or 4 large leeks in lengthwise until you reach the stem (don't cut through the stem; it will hold the leek together when you slice the other way). Wash away any dirt stuck between the outer leaves. Then, slice crosswise very thinly into pieces about 1/2" wide. The leeks will reduce down when cooking, so don't worry if it seems you have too much.

Slice 3 thin rectangular slices of Gruyère or Maroilles cheese from the brick and set aside for decoration (see photo below). Grate 150g of cheese (by weight) and set aside. 

In a large sauté pan, melt 4T unsalted butter over medium heat. Once the butter is bubbling, add the leeks. Continue to cook over medium heat for about 10-12 minutes, stirring every once in a while with a wooden spoon to avoid browning. If the leeks are starting to brown, or looking too dry, place a lid over the pan for a minute or two to build up some moisture.

Once the leeks are quite soft, sprinkle over the grated cheese and mix well. Stir regularly until cheese melts. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

To make tart shell:

Follow the directions for flaky pie crust #1 here. Since the filling is quite moist, you may want to pre-bake the crust in a pie tin at 400F for about 8-10 minutes. Wrap the edges of the crust in foil to prevent burning, and gently pierce the bottom with a fork to prevent bubbles (or better yet, use pie weights if you have these).

To finish:

Note: If you're not planning to eat the the tart right away, hold off on this step until just before serving.

Gently scrape the leek and cheese filling into the tart shell, and spread evenly. Top with the three pieces of cheese for decor. Bake at 375F for about 15 minutes, or until heated through. Broil for a couple of minutes at the end to brown the tips of the filling.

{Photo taken before the finish step}

Friday, December 27, 2013

Italian spaghetti squash

This dish is great for the holidays, when you might not yet be ready to give up the rich meals, but keen to get a few more vegetables into your system.

Roasted spaghetti squash is one of cooking's little wonders. I love seeing those perfect little spaghetti-like strands peel away from the sides when you take a fork to it. I took advantage of making this dish - my own recipe - to use up some leftovers in the fridge, like basil and pepperoni, but you can use your imagination with this one. This dish was a big hit for both B and me, and even better, it's one that can be made ahead. This version serves four; our leftovers didn't last long!


Cut one zucchini in half. Cut one large spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Place zucchini and squash on a baking sheet cut-side down. Bake at 357F. Remove the zucchini after 25 minutes, then continue baking the squash for a further 20 minutes, or until fork-tender. 

Scrape the squash using a fork, and place in an oven-proof casserole dish. Dice the roasted zucchini and add that as well. Add a jar of spaghetti sauce, 1/2 jar of chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup pesto, 150g roughly chopped pepperoni, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and 1/4 cup chopped basil. Top with breadcrumbs, then bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Tip: For a pretty presentation, place the mixture back in the hollowed-out squash shells. 

{Before I topped with breadcrumbs and baked}

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Competing with ornaments

My coworkers call this my 'Christmas outfit'. I guess it's to be expected when you wear a dress that looks like it was sewn with tinsel. In the non-holidays I wore it with a long beige blazer (post here). This time, I just went for it. Black velvet blazer? Check. Shiny deep green pump? Yup. A stone pendant necklace that could rival many a tree ornament? Hell yeah!

Happy Christmas Eve all :)


Dress: Ellen Tracy via Winners
Shoes: Naturalizer via thrift store
Blazer: H&M
Necklace: Hand-me-down
Watch: Kenneth Cole
Bracelet: Hand-me-down

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Five days of holiday baking: Day 5 - Vanilla-almond balls

This recipe is a variation on last year's brown butter and toasted almond cookies (here). These are a little more crumbly and dry (though nowhere near a biscotti), and very flavourful, so I recommend serving them with tea or coffee. I got the idea to combine almond and vanilla flavours after seeing a package of soy milk that did just that!


Prepare 1/2 cup of browned butter, then refrigerate until cooled. 

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat 1/2 cup browned butter, 3T almond butter, 3T almond paste and 3/4 cup brown sugar on medium-high for a couple of minutes. Scrape the seeds from 1 vanilla bean into 1/2 cup milk and add to mixture. Add 1T almond extract. Gradually mix in 1-3/4 cups of all-purpose flour. If the mixture is too dry, add extra milk. Stir in chopped vanilla-flavoured almonds. 

Taking care to handle the dough as little as possible, roll dough into 1" balls and space out on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 for 12-15 minutes.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Five days of holiday baking: Day 4 - Cherry-white chocolate cookies

Cream cheese shortbread cookies are another Christmas standby for me. In 2011, I flavoured them with lemon (here). In 2012, I stuck with a citrus base, but went in a more tropical direction with toasted coconut-lime cookies with macadamia nuts (here). This year I decided to try pairing white chocolate and dried cherries.


In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together 3/4 cup softened butter and 3 oz softened cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup icing sugar and beat hard. Gradually mix in 2 cups flour until well-blended. Stir in 1 cup dried cherries and 200g chopped white chocolate (or white chocolate chippits).

Roll dough into 1-1/2 inch balls on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, and place onto a greased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. (Handle the dough as little as possible). Make an indentation in the dough balls with a fork dipped in icing sugar. Bake at 300F for 20-25 minutes, or until delicate brown underneath. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Five days of holiday baking: Day 3 - Mars Rice Krispie squares

This recipe is courtesy of one of my Mom's coworkers and a good one for non-cooks. You need four ingredients and don't even have to turn on your oven. The melted Mars bars lend these rice krispie squares a delicious chocolate, caramel and nougat flavour. I halved the amount of chocolate topping to put over the squares, in relation to the original recipe.


To make, melt 1 cup of butter or margarine with eight roughly chopped Mars bars in a large microwave-proof dish on a medium power setting, removing the mixture occasionally to mix together. Once melted, add 6 cups of Rice Krispie cereal and mix. Transfer into a 8" square pan. Moisten fingers then pat squares down gently. Melt 1/2 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and pour over the squares and spread with a spatula. Cover and refrigerate until hardened.

Tip: The squares didn't stick together as well as classic rice krispies. Next time I may incorporate a little bit of marshmallow.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Five days of holiday baking: Day 2 - Crunchy espresso cookies with toffee bits

These cookies were adapted from a Food Network recipe for cocoa wafer cookies (here) that I keep changing up every year. In 2011, I followed the recipe for the batter to the letter, but I topped the cookies with minty crushed candy cane (here). In 2012, I substituted half the cocoa for instant espresso powder (here). This year I replaced all the cocoa with instant espresso, and added toffee nibs. I doubled the recipe (the quantities below are NOT doubled), and rolled out the dough a little thicker than in previous years (about 1/4").


In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat 3/4 cup softened butter until soft and fluffy. Sift together 1 cup icing sugar and 6T instant espresso powder, then beat together with butter. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 egg yolk and 1T heavy cream. Add 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking powder. Add 3/4 cup toffee nibs (see note). I used Hershey's brand. Shape dough into disc, then chill for 20 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4" thick. Cut into shapes then transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes.

Note: When I made these, I sprinkled the toffee nibs over the cookies after cutting them into shapes but baking. Since they we rolling around and I wasn't sure how well they'd melt, I gently pushed them down into the cookie using the back of a spoon. The cookies ended up with little crater-like indentations. Next time I'd probably just mix the toffee nibs right into the batter for simplicity.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Five days of holiday baking: Day 1 - Ricotta cookies with homemade lemon curd

Last year, it took me ages to develop my recipes for my holiday baking (click here for my recipe index). This year, I took advantage of inspiration having struck unexpectedly quickly and early by wrapping up my baking two weeks before Christmas. Though at the rate they're being eaten, I may make a few more batches! I was able to give some away to friends passing through town earlier in the month. 
These cookies were my favourite of the bunch. I modified my mascarpone cookies by substituting ricotta cheese, and used homemade lemon curd instead of jam. I froze these on account of the lemon curd, but they defrosted beautifully and even stayed nice and soft! I doubled this recipe, which made about four dozen cookies.

Prepare lemon curd (recipe here), or ensure you have a jar of commercial lemon curd on hand.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together 1/2 cup softened butter and 1-1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla, and mix until smooth. Add 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together 2-3/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into 1-1/2 inch balls. Using a blunt round object like the end of a wooden spoon, create an indentation in the center of each cookie. Place the cookies 2 inches apart, and bake at 325F for 12 to 15 minutes, or just until the cookies begin to colour on the bottom. Remove and while still warm, redefine the cavity. Once cookies have cooled, pipe cooled lemon curd into the cavity using a pastry bag. 

Option: Sprinkle icing sugar over top.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Visions of sugarplums

My parents still like to occasionally bring us little souvenirs when they go on vacation. They went on a hiking trip to the Alps to celebrate my mom's retirement a few months ago, and stopped in Milan for a couple of days. They bought me back this really pretty tank/long cardigan/shawl combo with intricate embroidery in a pretty faded plum hue. I took off the shawl for a couple of photos to better show the detailing.

It goes equally well with jeans and boots for visits with friends on the weekend, or wool trousers and low pumps for work. I love any clothes that do double duty.


{These were also taken with my 'makeup trial' face}

Top - ? (Milan)
Pants - Theory via outlets
Shoes - Naturalizer via thrift store
Earrings - Gift
Bracelet - Hand-me-down

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Plaid and yet more holiday sparkle

I don't wear this top often. It looks best on its own, but I'm someone who gets cold at the best of times. Living in Ottawa isn't helping my fashion cause!

This is the last time I'll whine about my stolen cream blazer: It would have been perfect with this outfit. OK, the cardigan was a decent substitute. But seriously, I'd been looking forward to wearing it with this top, which really needs something lighter-coloured to set off the dark hue. Pffft.

This outfit encapsulates the kind of things that get me excited about the holidays - sparkles, jewel tones, winter textures like wool.  It doesn't take much to get this girl's holiday spirit going! When I pulled out my winter clothes, I realized the chandelier earrings I'd bought a few months ago were a great match for my plaid skirt. Don't you love the delayed joy of discovering something you bought pairs well with an item you'd had tucked at the time of purchase? Better yet - that item happens to be something newly trendy, like plaid, that you'd forgotten you owned? I guess I get to jump on the plaid train after all!


Skirt - Banana Republic via hand-me-down (also here)
Top - Forever 21
Cardigan - Banana Republic
Earrings - Banana Republic
Shoes - Aldo via thrift store

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday party

B and I went to an awesome Christmas party at his former co-worker's house earlier this month. He's someone I'd been hearing great things about for ages and I was thrilled to discover he was just as warm and friendly in person. 

I decided to wear a green blouse in a nod to Christmas, but in a more modern, pastel version of the hue. A sequined skirt, gold clutch and chandelier earrings delivered that sparkle I can't get enough of at this time of year.

We didn't have time for blog photos before heading out to the party, so I threw this outfit on again the next day - after coming home from a wedding makeup trial, so I still managed to look dolled up despite it being Sunday evening.


Skirt - Reitmans
Top - Old Navy
Blazer - Banana Republic
Shoes - Guess via thrift store
Earrings - Banana Republic
Clutch - Gift

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thai-style salad with chicken and mango

I'm reluctant to ever refer to a dish as straight-up Thai, because I think I lack the credibility to not add that hyphenated mini disclaimer. However, fellow afficionados of Southeast Asian cuisine with recognize those standby ingredients: fish sauce, lime, mango, cilantro, basil. Yum!

The dressing comes from a fantastic vegetarian restaurant cookbook my friends L&S bought me, Rebar. The restaurant is in Victoria, British Columbia. I'll definitely stop in if ever I visit to that part of the west coast. The rest of the salad is my own recipe. Serves 4.


To make, peel and dice 3 mangoes (green ones would be ideal but I used Ataulfo) and 2 cucumbers. Core and dice 3 red peppers. Cook 1 package of rice vermicelli according to directions. Drain noodles, then add mangoes, cucumbers and peppers, plus 2 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken and 3/4 cup of roasted peanuts.
To make the dressing, dissolve 4T brown sugar in 1 cup hot water and let cool. Stir in 2 cloves of minced garlic,6T lime juice, 4T fish sauce, 2T soy sauce and 1 tsp sambal oelek. (I omitted the jalapeño this recipe also called for).

Top with plenty of basil and cilantro before serving.

Options: Add bean sprouts. Replace chicken with tofu. Replace peanuts with cashews.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Why mess with a good thing?

I liked how this pants-and-booties combination worked before (here), so why mess with a good thing? I swapped out the top half for a oversized top with subtle sequins and a velvet blazer. Right here, this is my happy zone: slim pants, loose-fitting top, heels and a blazer.

Nini was out of the office the day I wore this. However, after trying to keep my flat ironed hair straight and relatively hat head-free on my snowy walk to work, I was determined not to let a lack of a photographer stand between me and a set of photos. I surreptitiously took a couple of selfies in a full-length mirror near one of our boardrooms. Then I ducked into a single-person bathroom, and (I'm typing this and feeling rather sheepish), cleaned the counter, sat on it for a few more selfies, cleaned it again - I ignoring the person knocking on the door - then sauntered out. I took a few more at home for good measure.

What lengths have you gone to for your blog?


Pants - Calvin Klein via outlet (also here)
Blazer - H&M
Top - Tristan via thrift store
Shoes - Guess via thrift store
Earrings - Ardene

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta, pomegranate and feta

Since I first discovered how much better brussel sprouts can be than that mushiness you may have eaten as a kid, I've gone completely gaga for this vegetable. This latest incarnation is a tantalizing mix of creaminess and crispiness, saltiness and sweetness, juiciness and dryness. Because contrast is EVERYTHING in cooking. Plus put together, it's an absolute beauty in a bowl, especially around the holidays. This recipe is my own. 


To make, wash 2 lbs brussel sprouts and cut in half lengthwise. Toss with 2T olive oil, then spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast at 350F for about 40-45 minutes or until browning, turning once. Gently toss with 1/4 cup maple syrup.

While brussel sprouts are roasting, dry-sauté 150g thinly-sliced pancetta in a frying pan for about 2 minutes per side, or until slightly crispy and browned. Roughly chop.

In a bowl, combine brussel sprouts, pancetta pieces, and 1/4 cup each of pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta (you could substitute goat cheese). Ideally, serve while brussel sprouts are still hot.