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Here is the second installment of my Mom’s birthday menu.  It was a pretty elaborate dinner and I was quite please we pulled it off considering there were so many first tries for me.  I probably should have shared this recipe first as it was the appetizer, but I couldn’t wait to share the dessert!

Simon and I have wanted to try to do foie gras for some time.  While we were in Germany, we had the good fortune to be able to go to a French restaurant with my supervisor and his wife.  It was certainly a memorable experience and I can remember each dish vividly.  It was there that we were introduced to foie gras.

I must say I hesitated to eat it at first because I’d heard so many horror stories of how the ducks and geese are treated, but peer pressure forced me to succumb and I indulged.  It was spectacular and since then we have wanted to try and do it ourselves.

While I was in Paris for a conference, I purchased two small tins of duck foie gras to bring home for our experiments.  We decided to sear the foie and serve it with a rhubarb compote.

For those of you who are still thinking of the ducks and geese, I urge you to have a look at this article.  While I may just be making myself feel better, I did find it informative and well-written.

If you do decide to give it a try, be sure to take your time making the recipe.  Foie gras is very expensive, so one wouldn’t want to let it go to waste.

Foie Gras & Rhubarb (adapted from: Emril Lagasse)

  • 3/4 1bs. of chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon and a bit of grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 finely minced shallot
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tin of foie gras (pre-chilled in the fridge)
  • chopped chives and mixed greens as garnish

In a saucepan combine all ingredients except the foie gras.  Bring to a simmer until the rhubarb is softened.  Take off the heat and let cool a little before pureeing in a blender or with an immersion blender.  Set aside and let it come to room temperature.  Note that you can make this ahead and store in the fridge, but let it come to room temperature before using.

For the foie, take the can out of the fridge and open both ends with a can opener.  Push the log out from the other end onto a cutting board.  Heat some water and prepare your sharp knife.  Heat a fry pan to medium heat (no oil – just dry).  Dip the knife in hot water.  Dry it quickly and slice off a round of foie gras that is a about a pinky finger thick.  Repeat until all slices are done.

Season the slices with salt and pepper. Drop them into the hot pan.  It will sizzle and smoke.  Allow them to brown on one side and then quickly turn them over.  Once they are brown on both sides, pull them off the heat.  On each plate, put  a few tablespoons of rhubarb and top with one or two slices of foie gras.  Garnish with chives and greens.  Serve with bread or toasts.

After far too long Simon and I made it back to the woods for two nights of winter camping at Maple Leaf Lake in Algonquin Park.  This was our third winter camping trip and once again we wished we could have stayed longer.  We had some wonderful fires and walks on icy lakes.  We came back refreshed and even a little tanned.  It just goes to show that you don’t need to fly south to have a vacation in winter!

Winter camping presents its own set of challenges, but one of the benefits is that you can bring a variety of foods that you normally couldn’t in summer.  In the end everything stays frozen.  In the coming weeks, I’ll post some special winter camping recipes, but first I wanted to share a camp recipe that is good in both summer and winter.  It is one of our favourites and we take it a long on every trip.

The key to preparing your food for camping is to pack everything you need for each meal in ziplock bags.  Never ever bring food in all its original packaging.  You want to save as much space and weight as possible so bringing only what you need is essential.  I pack each breakfast and supper in a ziplock bag and mark how much water is need and other instructions on the outside.

This recipe is for a breakfast omelet and it is the perfect filling fuel for a day in the woods.  Believe it or not eggs can be easily brought in with you.  In summer, I try to eat the eggs on the first breakfast so they don’t go bad, but eggs do keep quite well. Here are the instructions for your own special eggy breaky in the backcountry.

Backcountry Breakfast Omelet (breakfast for one, multiply as needed)

  • 1 freezer ziplock bag
  • three eggs
  • add ins: bacon bits, grated parmesan cheese, chopped green onions, salt and pepper

At home:

Break your eggs into the ziplock bag (1 bag per person).  Dump in your add-ins.  Push all the air out of the bag and seal.  If you are more than one, group the egg bags in one larger ziplock bag for added protection and ease of storage.

At Camp:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil on either a camp fire or your camp stove.  Put the individual egg bags in the water.  Don’t worry, the ziplock bag won’t melt.  Let the bags sit in the hot water for several minutes.

Every once in a while pull them out and push on them a bit to allow any raw egg to spill out above the cooked exterior.  This will reduce the cooking time.  Once the eggs are cooked, dump them into your bowl and enjoy the tasty omelet with a cup of coffee or tea.

This meal comes together very quickly and has very minimal clean up.  It makes a perfect meal choice for a long day of hiking when you need to pack up quick!

It was the ligonberries that finally convinced me.  Simon had been bugging me for a while for us to make swedish meatballs.  I kept resisting.  The thought of big balls of tasteless meat dripping cream sounded like the exact opposite of a tasty dish.  Then we found real ligonberries at Deninger’s and I figured there would be at least one part of dinner I would like.

Of course the dinner actually turned out pretty awesome.  The meatballs were perfectly spiced.  The sauce was rich and flavorful with only a touch of cream and the accompanying cucumber salad was crisp and refreshing on the side.  I am now officially sold on meatballs.

As a base we used an Alton Brown recipe. In the comments, plenty of people said the sauce needed some more spices or something.  We added some mushrooms and thyme to pick it up a bit.  We served it with lightly buttered egg noodles and we were both in heaven!

The cucumber salad was super easy and involved thinly slicing the cucumber and letting sit in some salt to draw out the moisture.  Then you rinse it and toss it with 2 tbsp of white vinegar and 1 tbsp. of sugar dissolved in 1 tbsp. of boiling water.  You add some dill, salt and pepper and some shallots or green onions.  You let the whole mix crisp up in the fridge and you have a positively perfect cucumber.  I can imagine it being excellent in a sandwich too.

For the meatballs we followed Alton’s recipe with a few changes.  We used a mix of beef and ground turkey just because we had it.  I didn’t have allspice so I put in a bit more nutmeg as well as cinnamon and cardamon.  After we finished browning the meatballs, we sauteed some mushrooms in the pan before adding the stock.  We also put in some fresh thyme.  The meatballs can also easily be frozen, so go ahead and make a big bunch!

 

On Sunday my blog and I had our birthdays.  The blog had its first birthday and I turned the big three-oh.  I am not sure which is more exciting!  Over the last year, I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts and this blog has followed me around on quite a few cooking adventures.  For my birthday, I got a dehydrator, so hopefully I will be back to posting camping recipes soon!

The weekend was full of great moments and the weather was spectacular!  On Saturday I kept up the running training with a 24 km trail run with Simon.  It was the longest run I’ve done to date!  Sunday was a bit more restful and we explored some nature spots in Hamilton with my family.  As always the cardinals were out in all their glory.

The weekend also involved a lot of cooking.  Saturday I had some good friends over for a birthday dinner.  We had a chicken recipe that I have come up with that I hope to share soon, but sadly I didn’t take any good photos.  We followed up with chocolate fondue with tons of fruit, cookies, pretzels and marshmallows.  I love fondue!

On Sunday my family joined us for beef bourguignon.  This is an amazing recipe that takes fairly inexpensive meat like this –

and turns it into a rich, deep and delicious dish like this –

I can’t imagine a more perfect meal for a January birthday.  The recipe comes to me from one of my favourite cookbooks – Chocolate & Zucchini. Clotilde has managed to develop the perfect beef bourguignon in my opinion.  I made no changes because it is perfect as is!

Beef Bourguignon (serves 4-6) from Chocolate & Zucchini

  • 1 medium onion minced
  • 2 medium shallots minced
  • 3 carrots chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic minced
  • some fresh thyme (about 2 tsp.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3.5 lbs of chopped beef
  • 1 bottle of red wine (Burgundy or Pinot Noir)
  • 6-8 slices of bacon cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 1.5 ounces of dark, bittersweet chocolate
  • serve with bread or potatoes

The day before you want to cook the stew, mix together the onions, shallots, garlic, herbs, bay leaves, salt and pepper, carrots, wine, oil and meat.  Cover it with plastic wrap and and let it sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours.  Don’t skimp on the wine!

Several hours before you want to eat (at least 3 or 4) strain the mixture and reserve the liquid.  Pick out the meat pieces.  Don’t worry if some onion or parsley clings to the meat.  Just pick it off as best you can.

In a large pot fry the bacon slices.  Once they are crunchy lift them out and reserve them (you put them in close to the end of cooking).  Keep 2 Tbsp. of bacon fat in the pot and pour the rest off.  Sauté the vegetables until they have softened.  Lift the veggies out and now working in at least two batches, brown the meat lightly on all sides.

Once everything has had some sauté time, put all the meat into the pot and stir in the flour.  Mix in the flour until you can no longer see it.  Now add the veggies and the reserved liquid.  Let the pot come to a bubble and then turn the heat down to low.  Let it simmer with the cover on for about three hours. In the last hour add the chocolate and the reserved bacon.

You can do this cooking in advance if you like and then reheat it.  If a stew has a chance to sit, it tastes even better.

The last 20 minutes before you heat, take off the lid to allow the sauce to thicken.

Enjoy it with some steamed brussels sprouts, bread and a delicious bottle of wine (preferably the same kind you used in the stew).

Bon Appétit!

I’ve been meaning to do a post on some of the culinary “highlights” of Hamilton, my new home, for some time.  Finally, 2011 rolled around and I decided to do it.  I think my procrastination was largely related to the fact that Hamilton seems to pale in comparison to Paris, Heidelberg and Berlin when it comes to food.  How could I possibly follow-up with Hamilton?

However, even in the most unexpected places you can find rainbows and there have certainly been a few great spots here in the Hammer. Beyond the waterfalls, the escarpment and the nearby wine region, Hamilton also has a few good restaurants, cafes and food shops.  Here is what I’ve found so far:

  • Seven Windows: This is where I ate on my first night here and I haven’t found a better restaurant yet.  It is upscale, but the food is delicious and the staff are very professional.  If you are looking for a special dinner out then this is the place.
  • Gate of India: This place was the first Indian restaurant in Hamilton.  The food is really good and you can get it quite spicy if you ask.  They even have a dish hotter than vindaloo, but I haven’t tried that one yet.
  • Wass:  Wass is a super tasty Ethiopian restaurant.  The decor is a bit out-dated and there isn’t much in the way of natural light.  However, the food and the special coffee really make up for it.  Especially if you have never tried Ethiopian, give it a go.
  • Bar on Locke: For a quiet night of drinks, this bar offers up some cozy atmosphere and nice relaxing jazz music.  The food is pretty good and also pretty reasonable.
  • The Brain: Located in the “almost-gentrified” James St. quarter, this is the place to watch hipsters and have good beer.
  • The Winking Judge: This is one of these very inviting bars that feels like it is home.  The beer is a bit pricey, but they have an awesome selection.
  • My Dog Joe: I’ve only been once, but I really liked the bright sunny atmosphere of this cafe.
  • Zarky’s: For good bread and homemade foods, Zarky’s is a treasure.
  • Denninger’s: If you are looking to make a European dish (particularly a German one) and you can’t find the ingredients, then go to Denninger’s.  They also have really great bread.  The asiago-pepper bread was to die-for!
  • Cheese Shoppe on Locke:  I hesitated to put this one up, because it is prohibitively expensive.  However, the cheese really is fantastic and if you are willing to spend a bit extra for a treat then it is certainly the place to go.  Just poking around the store and having a few taste tests is also a pleasant way to spend some time.

In the end, I got a pretty long list!  Hopefully, I’ll find more gems to share soon.

This weekend was probably a pretty busy one for most people.  Everyone was finishing up shopping and setting up the house for Christmas.  Like most years I tried to make a few edible gifts for family and friends.  Hopefully, they won’t read this before the big day!

I made a big batch of spice nuts (four pounds!) using the excellent recipe from Sassy Radish.  I also made Sparkling Ginger cookies from Cookbook 101.  I love these cookies, becomes the ginger really comes through.

Naturally, I also wanted to make some old family favourites.  I did up a batch of Rum & Raisin Cookies and Chocolate Crinkles.  Both turned out delicious.  I am eager to share them with everyone, but for now I’ll share one of the recipes with you.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies (6 dozen)

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 sq. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup icing sugar

Melt chocolate.  Stir in oil and granulated sugar.  Blend in one egg at a time until well-mixed.  Add vanilla.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into oil/chocolate mix.  Stir together.  Let chill in the fridge several hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350*F.  Take teaspoon-sized balls of dough and roll in the icing sugar.  Shape into balls and press lightly on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Make sure to give the cookies a bit of space.  Bake for 10 minutes and be careful not to overbake.

This recipe makes a whopping 6 dozen cookies so be prepared to hand the out to family & friends.

Happy Holidays!!

On Sunday we went on a glorious hike to two beautiful waterfalls in the Hamilton area.  Webster Falls (above) and Tew Falls (below) can both be seen on a nice loop just outside of Dundas.  Webster is the more majestic of the two, but Tews is awfully pretty and is almost as high the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara.

While the weather was beautiful, it was certainly chilly (note the ice).  When we got home we wanted a nice warm dinner and we decided to give chinese hot pot a try.  My parents had given me a fondue pot, which we used as the “hot pot”.  It may sound like a challenging meal, but it is actually super easy and really fun to eat.

Basically you make a flavorful broth and then keep it hot in the pot on your table.  Everyone takes thin pieces of meat and veggies and cooks them in the broth.  Once all the meat and veggies are eaten up, noodles are added to the broth to make a soup to finish off the meal.

On the table, we put out sesame oil, soy sauce, sambal oelek and ginger sauce for us to mix up individually into a dipping sauce for the meat and veggies.

Chinese Hot Pot

Broth

  • 2 litres of good quality beef broth
  • fennel seed
  • clove seeds
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • 4 chopped green onions
  • 2 Tbsp grated ginger
  • glug of red wine
  • fresh herbs if you have them (we put in cilantro)

Veggies & Meat

  • mix of chopped vegetables: bok choy, snap peas, mushrooms, carrots
  • very thinly sliced flank steak (marinated if you wish)
  • very thin noodles for the soup at the end

Dipping Sauce

  • Some mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, sambal oelek, ginger sauce etc., to mix up how you like in a dipping sauce

Start with a large pot on your stove.  The pot is probably bigger than your “hot pot” or fondue pot.  Put the broth and all the ingredients in the pot and let simmer.  If you are using whole cloves and fennel seed, make sure to grind or crush them first.

Meanwhile, chop up your veggies and thinly slice your meat.  It is important that they are small and thin enough so that they don’t take too long to cook in the broth.

Set your table up with a small bowl for each person to make their dipping sauce.  Set out the veggies and meat for people to grab if they like.  If you have fondue forks you can use them, otherwise just use ordinary forks.

After lighting the “hot pot”, fill it two thirds of the way up with broth.

Proceed dunking the meat and veggies and eating them up with your own tasty dipping sauce.  Once you are done, toss some thin noodles in the pot and make yourself a little noodle soup.

It has been over a month since I last posted here, but what month.  I finished the phd, moved back to Canada and started life as a postdoc.  Needless to say the days were full of packing, unpacking and quite a few goodbyes.  It was pretty tough, but I am happy to back to blogging and will be eager to share recipes from this side of the pond.

I am officially a Hamiltonian now and am slowly getting used to the new place.  Simon and I hosted our first party this weekend in honor of the Grey Cup.  It was the Roughriders vs. the Alouettes – two great teams.

Let me tell ya we put together quite a spread.  We had a great bunch of people over to watch what was a pretty close game.  We fed them well.

We made sweet potato fries from Deb with a curry ketchup.  There were perogies and bratwurst.  We also had veggies with blue cheese dip and a fruit platter.

Simon made his amazing snakebite chili with plenty of chipotle peppers, which we served with all the good toppings.

I made fresh cornbread to go with it and I also made some chocolate chip cookies and brownies.  There was a lot of food!

At half time we kept everyone fueled up with nachos and fresh salsa.  In the end the Alouettes won (yay!!) and everyone went home pretty happy and pretty full.

I am already looking forward to next year!

Fresh Salsa (serves a crowd with nachos)

  • 6 large ripe tomatoes (finely chopped)
  • 1 small red onion finely minced
  • juice of large lime
  • 1 clove of finely minced garlic
  • finely minced jalapeno or a few dashes of hot sauce
  • a good bunch of chopped cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a big bowl and referigerate a few hours to let the flavours blend.  Serve it with chips or nachos with melted cheese and other toppings.  It also makes a fine addition to a tex-mex salad.

A few weeks ago I realized I needed an easy snack to take with me to the gym.  Granola bars came to mind and I searched through the aisles at the grocery store trying to find something mildly healthy with protein.  It was surprising how many of the bars contained an extraordinary amount of sugar and oil.

I decided I could do better and indeed I think I did.  I came across a recipe on have cake, will travel that intrigued me.  The bars were made of dried fruit and oats as well as ground chick peas.  Now I know what you are thinking (yuck right?), but trust me the final product tastes nothing like chick peas at all and is surprisingly sweet given very little sugar.  They are healthy and really fill you up when you are hungry.

I adapted the recipe only slightly, but I think this recipe could be varied in many different ways.  These bars keep well in the fridge and can easily be individually frozen.  They are not a crunchy granola bar, but a soft chewy one so keeping them in the fridge is best.  I hope you try them.

Healthy Granola Bars

(adapted from have cake, will travel)

  • 1 Tbs. of ground flax seed (if you can’t find ground then just pulse the seeds in the food processor)
  • 1/4 cup of warm water
  • 1 can of chick peas drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon, divided
  • 1/2 cup natural, unsweetened nut or seed butter (I used almond)
  • 1/4 cup of liquid sweetner (honey, agave nectar or maple syrup)
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup puffed cereal (I used spelt but you could use rice, kamut, etc.)
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used cranberries, cherries and dates)

Preheat the oven to 375*C.

If you have a food processor, put your flax seeds in and pulse them if they are not already ground.  Then add the warm water and let it sit for a while (10 min) until it thickens.

Meanwhile, dry your chick peas off by dotting them with a towel.  Toss them with the brown sugar and 1 tsp. of cinnamon.  Put them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 15 minutes.  Stir them around about half way through.  Note that chick peas toasted this way actually make a pleasant snack just like this.

Add to the food processor your liquid sweetner of choice, nut or seed butter and olive oil.  Give it a whirl.  If you don’t have a food processor all of this can be done by hand with vigorous mixing.  Add the chick peas and grind them (this could also be done with the back of a fork).

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients.  Don’t forget the remaining tsp. of cinnamon.  Press into a square 8 inch baking pan and refrigerate for at least two hours.  Cut into squares and wrap them individually in plastic wrap or foil so that you can easily pop them into your bag for the road.

 

On Sunday I took a break from studying to have a lovely lunch with my good friends Ioanna & Urban and their adorable baby.  I had asked Ioanna to show me a simple greek recipe that she loves to cook.  She decided upon peas, which are, as she calls them, an “oily” dish.  This means you need a lot of olive oil.  Like most greek dishes it is remarkably simple and relies upon a few key flavours left to simmer in a big pot.

I hadn’t had peas in a long time and to be honest I rarely cook them.  I was surprised to find how delicious this simple dish was and I think I will be making it again pretty soon.  We enjoyed lunch on their balcony on what was a spectacular fall day full of sunshine.

It was an afternoon of simple pleasures, delicious food and good friends.  What more can you ask for?

Greek Peas

  • 2-3 spring onions chopped
  • olive oil (at least 1/2 cup)
  • 8 small potatoes peeled and quartered (the hard kind)
  • 1 bag of frozen peas
  • 1 bunch of dill chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 cup tomatoe paste
  • water
  • salt and pepper
  • feta cheese

Heat a relatively large quantity of olive oil in a large pot.  The oil should completely cover the base of the pot.  Ioanna stressed that the amount of oil is important for the flavor of the dish.  We used greek olive oil, which was rich and dark green.

Add your spring onions and leave to cook a little.  Toss in the potatoes and coat them with the oil.  Next add the peas and dill.  Depending on how much tomato you like, add some tomato paste and stir to coat.  Pour in the water just so that it comes to the top of the potatoes.  It should look like this.

Let it cook for a while until the sauce is thicker (about an hour).  Taste it periodically and add salt & pepper depending on how you like it.  Once it is done cooking it will look like this.

Serve it with feta cheese on the table for people to add as they like.

Aside from this lovely simple dish, we also indulged in a decadent dessert – profiteroles!  For details on how to make these scrumptious treats check out Ioanna’s recipe.