Sunday, January 29, 2006

Comforting soup

Today is rainy and grey, although quite warm (by Toronto's January standards at least)... What a difference compared to yesterday's glorious sunny and warm weather!

It is a perfect day for curling up on the couch, watching videos, reading a little, and cooking for the week ahead.

And on a day like today, the mere thought of a nice, warm bowl of soup is comforting in itself.

This weekend also marks the end of the Weekend Cookbook Challenge, so this post is my entry to the challenge (my first blogging challenge).

The soup I made is from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat (one of my favourite cookbook reads), modified slightly.

To make it, you basically soak 2 cups of chick peas in water (if using the quick-soaking method, bring to a boil, let boil for one minute and then let stand for one hour). Drain the chickpeas and rinse them, then put them in a pot with 3 litres of stock, 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed, but not chopped, 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, and 2 or 3 sprigs of rosemary (Nigella recommends that you tie them in cheesecloth).

After this has boiled for one hour or so (when the chick peas are almost tender), add a 28-oz can of tomatoes, puréed, salt to taste (I added herbes salées du bas du fleuve, a blend of leek, parsley, onions, carrots, chives, watercress, chervil and savory preserved in salt), pepper, and about one cup of rice (I used a blend of rices), then simmer for another 30 minutes.

Very easy, very tasty, and oh so comforting!

Also today, inspired by Pascale at C'est moi qui l'ai fait, who made great-looking little sunflower seed buns this week, I decided against letting my bread machine do all the work for me and shaped the dough into little buns instead. What a great idea that was! The only problem is that the sunflower seeds I sprinkled on the breads before baking did not quite stick to the buns and are falling off. I need to find a better "glue".

Suddenly, this rainy Sunday does not seem so bad after all...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mmmm... Cupcakes!

Tonight, we are going to celebrate two of our good friends' 30th birthday and, for the occasion, I decided to make celebratory cupcakes. Bon anniversaire les filles!

The cake recipe comes from the new edition of Les recettes de Janette. Janette Bertrand is a famous and influential Québec tv personnality who was celebrating her 80th birthday in 2005. The book reads like a mother's -- or, in her case, a grand-mother's -- cookbook, complete with annotations and all, and I am glad Santa brought it to me this year.

This morning, when I was browsing for cupcake recipes, I saw this one, titled «Les petits pets de Magella» (a très original way of calling cupcakes in Québec). In the notes at the end of the recipe, Madame Janette says that she has been making these cupcakes since she was 6 years old and that her grandchildren beg her to make the same cupcakes for them. I figured that was a tried and true recipe -- and I was right!

The icing is a basic butter icing, from the Pillsbury cookbook.


1 egg
1 1/2 cup sugar*
1 cup milk
A piece of butter the size of an egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans**
1 cup of raisins**

Beat sugar with butter. Add egg, flour, milk, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Beat well. Add nuts and raisins. Pour into paper-lined muffin tins. Bake at 350 F for approximately 35 minutes.

* I used organic cane sugar and the it did not dissolve well in the batter. Regular sugar would be better in this case.
** I omitted these today.

Butter icing

Beat together 2/3 cup softened butter, 4 cups icing sugar, 3 to 5 tbsp milk or cream and 1 tbsp vanilla. Makes enough icing for a 2-layer cake or a 13 x 9 in cake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Sandwich King

No, I'm not talking about Lord Sandwich, the avid card player without whom we would not have been able to indulge in sandwiches... I'm talking about M., who makes the best sandwiches in the world (at least according to me).

His specialty is the open-faced type. He piles everything up so high that you need a fork and a knife to eat it. His favourites: lettuce, tomato, fresh garlic and onion (watch out for the breath!), avocado, steamed beets, hard-boiled eggs, and ham or smoked salmon. I know: beets in a sandwich? Yes, it seems odd, but it works. Try it! As for bread, pretty much anything goes: whole wheat from our bread maker, persian bread, pitas are all perfect vessels.

He also makes incredible croque-monsieurs... but that's for another story.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gâteau blanc à l'eau de fleur d'oranger (orange blossom water cake)

Last week, after a visit to Patachou, a French pâtisserie in Toronto, M. praised the deliciousness of their brioche à la fleur d'oranger.

My curiosity was piqued, and I could not help myself from buying orange blossom water when I went shopping this morning.

Since I had not tasted said brioche, I could not attempt to reproduce it. And "googling" it on the Internet did not yield the results I expected.

So I decided I would make a white butter cake and flavour it with my newly acquired orange blossom water. I wanted a dense, old-fashioned cake.

I love buying old recipe books, especially the ones that contain "everything-a-newly-wed-must-know-to-make-her-husband-happy". One of them is La cuisine raisonnée. Since the early 1900's, generations of Québec women have used it to, firstly, learn how to cook (in home economics schools), and then feed their families. I am no exception to the rule and now have two different editions of the book: the eighth edition (1957) and an anniversary edition which was published in 2003.

This cake is the gâteau au beurre from the 1957 edition. I omitted the vanilla and used 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water instead.

1/4 cup butter
2 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup milk or water
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter and gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar.
Add the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Incorporate the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk or water.
Add the flavouring.
Beat the egg whites until they are firm. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.
Fold the egg whites into the cake batter.
Pour the batter into a buttered and floured cake pan and bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes, or until the center of the cake is baked.

While the cake is baking, prepare a syrup by boiling 1/3 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar. When the syrup has boiled for 2-3 minutes, remove from heat and add 1 tbsp orange blossom water (to taste).

Brush the cake with the syrup when you take it out of the oven, unmold and let cool.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Paella para dos

M. and I got inspired this weekend. A quick trip to our fishmonger, and we came home with a large salmon, shrimp, clams, scallops and calamari. Paella it would be.

After looking up a few recipes on the net (my cookbook collection being rather mute on the topic of paella), we devised a plan. Our goal was to avoid mushy rice and overcooked seafood, two common issues with paella. We partly succeeded. Next time, we'll do better.

We began by making stock with the salmon bones and head, shrimp peel, garlic, sweet paprika, bay leaves, water, a bit of salt and a few peppercorns.

While the stock was simmering, I sautéed the salmon, shrimp, and scallop in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and sweet paprika. I cooked them until they were just underdone.

After the stock had simmered for about 30 minutes, I strained it into a cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavour as possible.

I then sautéed a generous amount of onion and garlic, along with the squit cut into rings, then added basmati rice, more sweet paprika, saffron, and a good amount of cayenne and sautéed until the rice became opaque. I then added the fish stock and let the rice cook.

Meanwhile, I steamed the clams in a bit of the fish stock.

When the rice was almost done, I sprinkled green peas on top of the rice, then arranged the fish and seafood, and garnished with roasted red peppers, then I let the rice and seafood finish cooking.

Notes to self:
- Next time, Iwill cook the fish and seafood longer before I add it to the rice.
- Because we used basmati rice (as per M.'s preferrence), we should have let the rice cook completely before adding the fish to the rice, as basmati is like a little sponge that can absorb a lot of liquid -- and then becomes mushy (which is what we wanted to avoid in the first place).

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Little bundles of health

I was introduced to the Paper Chef Project recently. Based on the Iron Chef show, four ingredients are identified and participants have to prepare dishes that use the four theme ingredients. This month, the four ingredients were quinoa, cashews, yogourt and a "baby" (baby-sized foods, baby food, participants could let their imagination run wild).

Although I have not sent a submission to this month's event, it does not mean I have not thought about ingredient combinations.

So, tonight, I made these little trout bundles with the ingredients I had on hand -- a mini Paper Chef Project, if you will.

4 servings

1 lb trout filet, cut into 4 portions
Oil (sesame and grape seed)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 package of shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 medium-sized carrots, julienned
1/2 medium-sized zucchini, julienned
1 2-in piece of ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
4 large leaves of kale

1. Heat the oils in a skillet and sauté the onion, mushrooms and garlic. Cook until soft and lightly brown.

2. In a bamboo steamer, lightly steam the julienned carrots and zucchini until they are al dente.Put aside. Place the kale in the steamer and cook until the leaves are pliable.

3. Mix the grated ginger and garlic with the sesame oil and hoisin sauce. Put aside.

4. On a board, place one leave of kale, place one portion of fish in the centre, and place the carrot, the zucchini and the mushroom mixture on top of the fish. Top with 1 tbsp of the ginger/garlic/sesame oil/hoisin sauce. Close the kale leaf over the fish and vegetables, securing with toothpicks as necessary. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

5. Steam the bundles for about 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked.

6. Serve over rice.

Notes to self:
- Chard would probably be easier to work with than kale. Depending of the leaf size, it may be better to make 8 small bundles rather than 4 small ones, as closing them is tricky.
- Skinned pieces of fish would be better -- steamed skin is not great.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sunday night roast chicken

Every Sunday, I try to spend a few hours preparing food for the week ahead.

We receive our fresh box of produce on Monday, so it is a good opportunity to cook whatever is leftover and be ready to welcome our new box (we are both quite childish about the box, looking forward to receiving it each week).

Our Sunday night meal often looks like a vegetable side dishes buffet, along with a nice naturally raised roasted chicken from the nearby Mennonite country. This chicken is so flavourful that only a few seasonings make it delicious. This week, after massaging my seven pounder with nice Crête olive oil from Alex Farm, I rubbed it with the following rub and hop! put it in a 350 F oven for about 3 1/2 hours (it was a large chicken).


1 tbsp hot smoked Spanish paprika (one of my new favourite spices)
1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp celery seeds

Friday, January 06, 2006

It's Friday night! What's for dinner?

Usually, on Friday nights, I'm tired but I feel compelled to go out or do something fun to celebrate the end of the week.

This week, it's a bit different: we drove back to Toronto from my parents' on Tuesday and I worked for the rest of the week, so I did not have a lot of time for myself.

I arrived home hungry, and determined to spend a nice and quiet evening with M. I felt like having a good meal with him and relax.

Things turned out slightly differently, as he had had lunch late this afternoon and was not hungry. So, after scratching my head to decide what to eat, I started improvising with what I had in the fridge (we did not really go grocery shopping since we came back). And I wanted to have a healthy meal.

I decided to use my new julienne peeler and made a thai-vietnamese inspired carrot salad:

2 large carrots, julienned
1 1-in piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp sambal oelek
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp fish sauce
A sprinkle of dehydrated chives (fresh cilantro would have been great, but I did not have any)

The salad was very good and felt very healthy. Somehow, that little bit of sambal oelek packed a lot of punch, so I added half an avocado, cubed, to the salad and that absorbed some of the heat.

I will make that salad again, and hopefully, it will be a more planned affair. But I'm impressed that, combined, these very simple ingredients made a very tasty salad. Vive le vendredi!