A Little Humble Pie: Cottage Pie

Homey, rustic food is just the thing to take off the chill at this time of year. Cottage pie has all the ingredients of a quintessential wintertime dish: meat, potatoes and gravy kept toasty warm in a casserole dish. It's basically the same thing as shepherd's pie, though "cottage pie" usually indicates the use of minced beef rather than lamb. 

Why bother cooking the filling and topping separately, and then cooking them again in the oven? Baking lets the flavours blend together so the pie is more... cohesive tasting, if that makes any sense. The potatoes absorb some of the gravy below which enhances their flavour. It's also the easiest way (short of a blowtorch!) to get a nicely bronzed potato topping. 

Tip: Adding an egg yolk to the mashed potatoes helps them brown. It's the same method used to make Duchess Potatoes.

Recipe after the jump!


Meat and Potatoes: Pan-seared Ribeye with Hasselback Potatoes

These candy cane striped gems are Hasselback potatoes. Named for the Hasselbacken restaurant in Stockholm, they're simply roasted potatoes with a fancy cut. Just a few thin slices and the potatoes will fan out like little accordions in the oven.

In addition to looking pretty, the cuts leave pockets for butter and seasoning. They also allow the potatoes to cook faster. Baking potatoes might crisp up better, but I went with red-skinned ones for their autumnal hue.

Recipe after the jump!

eaT Tea: Earl Grey Cupcakes

When I'm in need of a caffeine boost, I usually reach for tea rather than coffee. My tea of choice is usually plain ol' English Breakfast, no matter the time of day. I rarely drink Earl Grey, but I really like the floral qualities in this fragrant cupcake. Earl Grey's distinctive flavour comes from bergamot orange rind which translates surprisingly well in baked goods.

The recipe I used comes from the quaintly named Hummingbird Bakery in London. The tea flavour is fairly light in the cake so I'd recommend infusing two extra tea bags in the milk overnight before using it. Cold infusing the tea gives a better, stronger flavour in the batter. 

I improvised the Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting here since I couldn't find an official recipe. I stuck with the Earl Grey theme, but a zesty citrus frosting would be great too. In addition to steeped tea, there are tea leaves in the buttercream (which, truth be told, don't add that much more to the flavour). They're very finely ground so that they don't interfere with the silky smooth texture of the buttercream. I think the Earl Grey flavour definitely comes through in the frosting more than in the cake.

Recipe after the jump!


Almond Biscotti

Yes yes, this is yet another almond cookie. But this time, we're travelling from, erm, Chinatown to Italy for biscotti. This twice-baked cookie is crunchy and perfect for dipping into coffee or wine. The recipe I used incorporates butter so it deviates slightly from traditional recipes which don't use any fat. The added butter gives it the perfect not-too-hard texture so you can enjoy it sans dunking.

Contrary to my earlier advice, I find it is actually easier to get nice slices without crumbling if you use a serrated knife and a sawing motion. Also, chopping up the nuts a bit before adding them allows the dough to hold together better, again minimizing crumbling. It's a good idea to toast the nuts before adding them for maximum crunch, but they will toast up a bit more during the final (second) baking.  

Recipe after the jump!


Bites of Beet: Roasted Beet, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Maple Glazed Salmon

I can't believe it's taken me four years to get around to writing a post featuring the blog's namesake root vegetable. So, in its blog debut, the beetroot is featured in a simple salad with some classic flavour combinations, perfect for the warm and sunny weather that has been sticking around lately.

The Salad Formula

Sweet: Roasted beets, d'Anjou pear
Sour: Maple vinaigrette
Salty: Goat cheese
Bitter: Mixed greens
Creamy: Goat cheese
Crunchy: Toasted pecans

Beets can be a bit messy to prepare. This is how I usually cook them to avoid leaving the kitchen stained bright pink:
Coat whole, unpeeled beets in olive oil and wrap them in a foil packet. (You may want to quarter them if they're really large.) Roast at 400 F until tender. You can test this by poking one with a paring knife. Let the beets cool until you can handle them easily. Use a paper towel to rub the skins off and keep your fingers from getting stained. I find it also helps to coat your fingers with a little oil so the beet juice washes off more easily.  

The sweet and salty glaze on this salmon gives it a nice char if, like me, you're too lazy to use a grill. I don't have a particular recipe for this; it's just a combination of soy sauce, maple syrup, and pepper. Coat the fish in the glaze and pan-fry both sides over medium-high heat, 3-4 minutes a side. 


Operation Bakery Clone: Chinese Almond Cookies

I was a fan of the Top Secret Recipe books when I discovered them a few years ago. As their title suggests, the recipes are formulated to mimic restaurant dishes and commercial food products. There are recipes for everything from Big Macs to Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. 

This recipe is supposed to clone Twin Dragon Almond Cookies. I'm not familiar with that particular brand-- I just know that these crunchy little cookies are just like the ones that are often served with dessert at Chinese restaurants. They're less delicate than shortbread but have a similar crumbly, sandy quality. 

I made some substitutions (using shortening, unblanched almonds, and whole wheat flour) so the colour is darker than the bakery versions. I've made them before following the recipe exactly as written and can confirm that it does indeed make some pretty tasty clones.

Recipe after the jump!


Appetizing Aromatherapy: Thai Green Curry

I make curry quite regularly, especially when I'm pressed for time. Toss some curry paste, coconut milk, meat and veggies into a pot and you get a pretty tasty meal that can last a few days. In those cases, I'll use jarred curry paste that you can get at the store. However, I always find that I need to use a lot of it and the flavour is a little flat (maybe I just need to look for another brand...) Since I had too much time on my hands (such luxury!), I made the paste from scratch this time.

Curry paste preparation is virtually aromatherapeutic. Just chopping up lemongrass, cilantro, basil and lime releases incredibly appetizing smells. When the curry paste comes in contact with a hot pan, the delectable fragrance that is released is enough to call your diners to the table. I don't know if I'll go back to using the jarred stuff again!  

Thai green curry with tofu, bell pepper, carrot and green beans

Recipe after the jump!


Summer Salad: Fig, Prosciutto and Parmesan Frico

You know it's late summer when fresh figs start popping up everywhere. This salad makes use of a classic combination of ingredients. The figs' grainy, jammy sweetness works really well with salty proscuitto. In fact, goat cheese stuffed figs wrapped in prosciutto make a great appetizer, but that's another recipe.

The lacy parmesan frico adds some extra crunch and is a simple salad garnish to make. Finely grate some parmesan cheese and drop tablespoonfuls onto a lightly greased parchment lined baking tray. Bake at 300F for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned (Keep an eye on it. It burns easily!) Allow it to cool before serving. 

The Formula:

Sweet: Black Mission figs
Sour: Balsamic vinaigrette
Salty: Prosciutto, parmesan frico
Bitter: Mixed greens
Creamy: Goat cheese
Crunchy: Parmesan frico


Dukkah-Crusted Lamb Chops with Pomegranate Molasses

I had my eyes opened to the deliciousness of lamb a year ago. Since then, I've been looking for different ways of preparing it. The usual suspects, rosemary and garlic, work wonderfully but I felt like making something else this time around. I was sold on this recipe as soon as I spotted the pistachios and pomegranate molasses in the ingredient list.

Dukkah is a nut and spice blend used as a dip or side dish in Egyptian cuisine. The ingredients that go into the blend vary but commonly contain coriander, cumin, sesame, salt and pepper. This recipe also calls for pistachios. It makes a nice crumbly crust with a spicy warmth that compliments the lamb really well.

Pomegranate molasses is pomegranate juice that has been reduced until it's thick and syrupy. It's often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It can be purchased in stores, but isn't difficult to make from pomegranate juice. I used good ol' Pom, since pomegranates aren't in season right now. The pomegranate definitely brightens the dish up with its tartness.

I served the lamb with some couscous on the side. I think this will be my go-to couscous recipe from now on. The shallots and chicken broth give it a really rich "French Onion Soup"ish taste!

Recipe after the jump!


Say Cheese(cake): Low-fat New York Cheesecake

When asked what she would like for her birthday cake this year, my grandma requested a cheesecake. I'd never made cheesecake before so I started with a little research, as usual.

First came the recipe selection. Lately, I've been doing less low-fat baking than I had in the past. I just find that "full-fat" recipes yield tastier baked goods. This time I had to make an exception though. Most of the recipes out there for great cheesecakes contain extremely decadent ingredient lists including some combination of: several blocks of full-fat cream cheese, whipping cream, sour cream, and multiple whole eggs. 

I wouldn't feel great serving something quite that heavy to my family so luckily I found this recipe for a low-fat cheesecake. Even better, it doesn't require any "weird" ingredients like tofu and cottage cheese. While it doesn't quite have the silkiness you can only get with all the rich ingredients of a typical cheesecake, it was still deliciously creamy and light thanks to the meringue. A pretty decent trade-off, if you ask me.  

It seems like every experienced cheesecake baker has their secret to the perfect cake. Most of the tips and tricks I read were aimed at preventing the number one cheesecake-ruining culprit: cracking. Some recommended using the cream cheese straight from the fridge, while others said to wait for the cheese to come to room temperature. Many recipes called for baking the cheesecake in a waterbath or placing a pan of hot water in the oven. There were various ways of cooling cheesecake as well: in the oven, on the counter under a bowl etc. etc...

I used cold cream cheese, baked the cake with a pan of water in the oven and cooled the cake gradually in the oven for about 30 minutes before removing it to a cooling rack. I also found it helpful to line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper so the cheesecake could shrink upon cooling without resistance from the sides. I breathed a sigh of relief when the cake was finished, crack free. It left a nice smooth surface for some personalization, too! 

Recipe after the jump!


Sunday Dinner: Celery Salad, Roasted Halibut and Polenta

This is what was for dinner yesterday:

Parmesan, Walnut and Celery Salad
Parmesan Polenta

Lemon and Herb Roasted Halibut
The menu is identical to one that Ina Garten featured in an episode of her show (I forget which one...) The celery salad is what really caught my eye because I'd never had such a celery-centric salad before. This was tasty and different; the parmesan and anchovy added a subtle savoriness and was balanced with the brightness of lemon juice. 
The three dishes work well together. The super crunchy salad added some welcome texture to what would otherwise be a rather softly textured meal. The polenta contributed richness to the two other leaner dishes.

Recipes after the jump!


Suspended Animation: Summer Fruit, Elderflower and Prosecco Jelly

I remember watching Jamie Oliver on TV during his Oliver's Twist days, back when he'd zip around London on his scooter gathering groceries and have friends over to cook at his kitchen with the big window in the background. I remember seeing him make this recipe one episode. I had forgotten all about it until recently when I was trying to find a use for the big bottle of elderflower cordial that's been sitting in my fridge. 

I'm sort of obsessed with elderflower drinks. My favourite summer refreshment involves mixing a little elderflower cordial with fizzy water or sparkling wine. It's quite a unique flavour; it's sort of fruity, a little floral, with a hint of a "greenness". Elderflower is probably best in beverages though. I've tried elderflower flavoured chocolate and I swear it tasted like a chocolate bar that's been sitting in a granny's purse for too long (nastily perfume-y). 

This dessert is quick to prepare and fun to eat. The gelatin captures the bubbles so it stays fizzy on your tongue when you eat it. It can be unmolded or served in a glass. I topped the ones in the glasses with some vanilla mousse. I love the berries and cream combination. The cream mixed with the wine also tastes a bit like syllabub.

I tried making a similar dessert involving grape jello and club soda a few years ago. That attempt literally fell flat so I was worried about all the bubbles dissipating again before the jelly set. I was a bit more prepared this time, having done some extra research!

Tips and the recipe after the jump!


Veggie Tales: Zucchini Corn Fritters

Recently, I caught up with some friends over dinner at the newly opened Acorn restaurant on Main St. I was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying the meal was, considering it's at a vegetarian restaurant. Oftentimes, veggie dishes play a supporting role to meaty star attractions. Not so at The Acorn. I didn't find myself asking, "Where's the meat?" The dishes were really well thought out, not to mention beautiful and colorful to look at.

I guess my dinner at The Acorn inspired this summery veggie dish. Zucchini are plentiful at this time of the year. When grated and turned into fritters, they become crisp on the outside and almost custardy on the inside. I reduced the amount of flour in the batter because I wanted the fritters to be mostly zucchini, rather than pancake-y. I tossed some corn and cumin into the mix for good measure (I think the cumin made a big difference) and served it with a roasted red pepper coulis.

Eat here:
The Acorn
3995 Main St.
Vancouver, B.C.  

Recipe after the jump!


Summer Salad: Chili Lime Prawns with Avocado and Grapefruit

This is a refreshing summery salad. Not only is it healthy and delicious, but I love the way the coral shrimp and pale green leaves look together. I think the tastiest salads always have an interesting combination of flavours and textures. A "salad formula" rather than a recipe, if you will. For example, this salad incorporates:

Sweet: Honey
Sour: Lime juice, grapefruit
Salty: Fish sauce
Bitter: Mixed greens
Creamy: Avocado
Crunchy: Prawns (I'd add cashews or peanuts, if I had them around.)
Heat: Red chili flakes

A perfect light lunch for a hot day in no time at all!


Bucatini all'Amatriciana

I've always found it kind of cool how distinct the myriad of pasta shapes are, despite being made of the same ingredients. A pasta dish can be completely transformed just by changing the shape of noodle used. I can't think of another food that is like this! 

The pairing of pastas and their sauces are usually based on how the shape interacts with the sauce. For instance, short, tubular pastas like penne and rigatoni work well with hearty, chunky sauces, whereas thin noodles like spaghetti and capellini  are often served with thinner, smooth sauces. That being said, when I was little, I couldn't care less about the art of pasta-sauce pairing. All that mattered was that the pasta shape was fun to eat. The right shape made dinner infinitely tastier. Shells and scoobi-doos were my shapes of choice. And I can't forget Zoodles--the safari in a bowl! 

Some of the more unusual shapes I have come across include radiatori (which look like little radiators) and the rather creatively-named Lingua di Suocera ("Mother in Law's Tongue"!). Today I used bucatini, which is a fat noodle with a hole in the center. It used to be a "specialty pasta" but it's becoming easier to find in regular grocery stores. It's Roman in origin and is quite a hearty, chewy pasta. I prepared it with a sauce made from tomatoes and pancetta to make a dish called bucatini all'amatriciana. It's topped with a little basil for extra flavour and served with mozarella stuffed meatballs. 

Recipe after the jump!


Benny and the Jets: Eggs Benedict with Fresh English Muffins

Eggs Benny is one of my favourite brunch dishes. I'd never attempted to make it at home before but seeing as it isn't terribly tricky to prepare, this definitely goes in the "Make it Again" file. Actually, it would be even faster if I didn't make the English muffins as well. My previous Eggs Benedict encounters have shown that crab cakes and even pancakes make perfectly suitable bases.

Is it worth making the English muffins from scratch? If you have time, then go for it! I prefer the flavor of these (none of that slight tanginess in the packaged versions). That being said, there is a difference in texture. These are more uniformly crumbed and bread-like, rather than filled with the nooks and crannies characteristic of the store-bought ones. The dough is prepared like a normal yeast dough, but the muffins are baked on a griddle which browns them on the top and bottom. 

Of course, it wouldn't be Eggs Benedict without the velvety Hollandaise sauce draped on top. The sauce is made from very few ingredients: just lemon, egg yolks and butter. The mixture must be whisked constantly over a water bath to keep it from curdling and splitting. (If it does split, remove it from the heat and throw in a tablespoon of cold water, whisking quickly.) Since it was too early to do all that whisking by hand (...okay, okay, it was past noon), having a hand mixer came in... handy.

Oh, and rather than topping the English muffin with the usual Canadian bacon, I used some smoked Sockeye salmon for a little West Coastiness. :) 

Recipe after the jump!


I Spy a Pizza Pie

Okay, so after an inexcusably long break from this blogging business, I'm back! A couple of updates from the past few months:

-I graduated (yay!) and moved away from New York City (boo.)
-I had to fortune of dining at Per Se. A culinary dream come true. 

Behind the scenes. There's a live feed to the French Laundry on that TV screen.
-This post was Certified Yummly
-There's a new resident in my kitchen. It's pretty and shiny. Look! 

This has been on my wishlist for quite a long time but my trusty hand mixer has proven itself to be the little mixer that could so I never really needed a stand mixer. I still use it often since sometimes bigger is not necessarily better (like stove top mixing for hollandaise sauce? More on that in a later post...) However, its bigger, more powerful sibling makes baking as easy... as pizza pie. 

If you're a pizza aficionado, there are a few extra steps you can take to make a stellar pizza. The dough can be made with a special flour and the pizza can be baked on a pizza stone in a blistering hot oven. I don't make pizza often though, so bread flour and a plain ol' pizza pan on the bottom rack of my oven will do. I made half barbeque chicken (barbeque sauce+grilled chicken+caramelized onions+mozzarella) and half margherita (tomato sauce+fresh basil+mozzarella). 

Tips and recipe after the jump...


Toasty Cool: Toasted Almond Gelato

Next to pistachios, almonds are my favourite kind of nut. (I'm mildly obsessed with marzipan). They're delicious and nutritious to boot (since apparently, it's a superfood). They also make a great, delicately flavored gelato; like vanilla, but less...ordinary. This is extra rich and velvety since the base is made from eggs and heavy cream.
Of course, you can get top-quality gelato and ice cream from the store. But making it from scratch is not only fun, but nice to be able to adjust flavours and ingredients to suit your taste. Homemade gelato is also usually denser than store-bought ice creams because less air is incorporated during churning.
The gelato can be enjoyed straight from the ice cream maker for a soft-serve consistency or, if you think you have the self-control, can be frozen for something more scoop-able. 

Recipe after the jump


Pan-Seared Salmon with Dill Sauce

Pan-Seared Salmon with Dill Sauce, Garlic Roast Potatoes and Broccoli

Well surprise, surprise. Here's another fish post, which means yet another salmon post. This is a ridiculously simple dill sauce that you can whip up while the fish is in the pan. It's great for a quick mid-week dinner. 
The sauce is made with crème fraîche, which is like regular sour cream but has a higher butterfat content. It has a more delicate and rich flavor, as well as a silkier texture. It is often used to make French sauces because it does not curdle when heated. It can also be whipped like whipping cream, or added to regular whipping cream to improve its "whippability." It has a relatively long shelf life of several weeks.  
This dill sauce is a nice alternative to tartare sauce and a lot fresher tasting in my opinion. (Though the consistency is a little thin to serve with fried fish.) 
I've run out of things to say about salmon, so let's let the one line "recipe" speak for itself...

Recipe after the jump


Crème-y Goodness: Crème Caramel

Crème caramel is a great dessert for entertaining. It can be made ahead of time so you can effortlessly serve it to your guests in all its golden, syrupy glory whenever you need it. This classic dessert is not cloyingly sweet and the smokiness of the caramel gives some edge to the delicate vanilla scent. 
Since this particular recipe uses milk in the custard, it is on the leaner side. If you would like it to be extra velvety and rich, look for a version that uses cream and/or more egg yolks. 

Notes and recipe after the jump...