Friday, September 30, 2011

Tomato and Corn Medley

I’ve decided to call this dish Tomato Corn Medley, because it sounded better than Tomato Corn Thing or Tomato Corn with Stuff. I got the recipe (or guidelines, really) when I was in the waiting room at my GP’s clinic. In the US, there seem to always be televisions in the waiting rooms in doctors’ offices, showing health-related capsules (my gynecologist in Montreal had something similar, but it was usually broken or mind-numbingly boring, and the CLSC sure didn’t have that). This tomato and corn medley is an easy and healthy dish which you can customize according to your taste and the contents of your fridge and pantry. The following is a loose recipe; you can increase the protein to get 4 servings, or add cheese on whole grain crackers to hit all the food groups. I really liked it, especially given how easy it is to make (and no need to follow along with a recipe, either).

1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if you want
4 ears of corn, grains cut off with a knife (or the equivalent frozen or from a can)
1 bunch of scallions, white and green parts separated, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
2 cooked chicken breasts, or protein of your choice

In a skillet, heat some olive oil and cook the white parts of the scallions until they soften. Add the tomatoes and corn and cook to taste (you can cook them all the way through, or just warm them up). Add a splash of lime juice and top with the green parts of the scallions. Serve on a plate with avocado slices and chicken.

Dairy-free macaroni and cheese by Road's End Organics

I want to mention a product I tried recently, this dairy-free macaroni and “cheese” by Road’s End Organics. You see, there was a time when I would occasionally have a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. It’s artificial as heck, but I liked it (and hey, if you throw in a can of tuna and some frozen peas, you’ve got your four basic food groups right there). I haven’t bought any in years, though, since I can’t have all that lactose. So this product seemed like a good substitute. It’s not as bright orange, but that’s to be expected in a product that is mostly natural. While it was good, it didn’t taste the same as the Kraft version. It probably wasn’t fair of me to compare the two, but I can’t help but feel like that’s what anyone would do if they had Kraft before. I also found that the box contained fewer servings – I don’t know if this is my memory playing tricks on me or not. All in all, I would probably buy it again and keep it in the pantry for one of those nights when I just don’t feel like cooking, but be warned that it’s not really a Kraft substitute! There are also gluten-free versions, and all of the products at the link are vegan.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Streusel Plum Cake

I wanted to make another plum cake before plum season was over. I ended up making a dimply plum cake found on Smitten Kitchen and created by the legendary Dorie Greenspan. The cake looked delicious, and I loved the idea of using cardamom instead of cinnamon with the plums. I also liked the other flavour combinations that were suggested (orange with a bit of star anise, cherries with mint or peaches with some fresh lemon and basil). When I tasted it, though, I thought, “Meh.” It was ok, but the dough didn’t impress me.

I started thinking that my mother’s plum cake was better than that. And then I realized that I still didn’t have her recipe! So she emailed it to me and I made it the following week. It’s perhaps not as good looking, but take my word for it, it is better. It was once thought that my sister and I didn’t like it, but that’s only because during plum season, my mother would serve it once a week, so by the fourth week, we were understandably a little tired of it. Just don’t overdo it.The recipe is adapted from Anne Lindsay’s The Lighthearted Cookbook. My mother replaces the cinnamon with nutmeg and uses fresh plums instead of canned. That’s the way I’ve made it, and I love it, but I now think you could use a mix of nutmeg and cardamom. It comes with the option of a glaze, but I like it au natural. The cake isn’t too sweet, but is moist and flavourful. You can also make it with peaches, apples or pears. And take it from me, you don’t even have to separate the eggs. The number of plums you’ll need depends on their size; you need enough to cover the surface of and 8-inch square pan once they’re halved. Enjoy!

For the cake
¼ cup margarine
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup lactose-free milk (2% ideally)
6-8 small plums (or 3-4 bigger ones; see above)

For the streusel topping
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp soft margarine
1 tsp nutmeg (or cardamom or, if you really must, cinnamon)

For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease an 8-inch square cake pan (a 9-inch square pan or springform pan will do too).

In a large bowl, cream together margarine, sugar and egg yolks until fluffy. Combine flour and baking powder; beat into egg mixture alternately with milk.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold into batter. Turn into prepared pan.

Halve and pit plums and arrange over top.

For the streusel topping
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, margarine and nutmeg; mix well and sprinkle over fruit.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until top is golden and toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.

Salad with Sprouts and Miso-Lemon Dressing

I made this salad to go with the marinated pork. I changed it a bit, because I couldn’t find edamame beans at the store. (I knew that I had seen them in the frozen section previously and was looking for them near the peas. I’ve since realized that they are stored near the raspberries, two aisles over. And that the recipe actually called for edamame seeds, not beans.) I also omitted the fennel, because I’m not always that fond of it. I didn’t measure the ingredients for the salad, I just eyeballed it to make 4 servings (I mean, it’s a salad, live a little!); I did measure the ingredients for the dressing, though. I really liked it! I also finished the salad with some store-bought miso dressing by Oka, which is also really nice.

8 oz mixed salad greens
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly shaved (I omitted it)
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and cut into ½-inch lengths
1 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced (or all of it)
4 oz sprouts (any variety)
¼ cup roasted edamame seeds, divided
2 lemons, juiced (about ¼ cup)
2 Tbsp miso paste
1 Tbsp soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari sauce)
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the salad greens with the shaved fennel slices and green onions. Toss in the English cucumber slices and sprouts, and toss until the sprouts are evenly distributed throughout the salad. Toss in half the edamame.

Whisk together the lemon juice and miso paste until smooth and completely blended. Whisk in the soy sauce, and olive oil and toss with the greens. (If you’re like me, though, only dress the salad that you’re eating in that sitting, and store the rest separately.) Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Spread the salad in a bowl or on a platter and sprinkle with the remaining edamame.

Marinade for pork

This is a recipe published in the June edition of Bon Appétit, courtesy of Susan Spicer, chef at Mondo in New Orleans. (I used less sriracha than she calls for, but that’s no big surprise.) She suggests marinating pork shoulder in it, but I had cubes of pork sirloin. I’m sure it would be great with pork chops or pork tenderloin as well! Vegans could also try tofu. I cooked the pork in a wok, then served it with rice with gomashio as well as a salad with miso dressing.

1 cup soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari sauce if you’re eating gluten-free)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp sriracha (I used a dash; this depends on how much you like the heat)
1Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 star anise pods
a 1" piece ginger, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro stems (I used a liberal amount of chopped leaves)

Combine all ingredients, then marinate your pork (or protein of choice) before cooking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sur la table

I got a catalogue in the mail yesterday announcing the opening of a Sur la table in San Antonio, at a beautiful shopping center (really) that already has a Crate & Barrel and a Williams Sonoma. I always thought Sur la table was super expensive, for some reason, but now I realize that a lot of items are quite reasonably priced. I fell in love with their whiteware dishes (especially the slanted and swoop bowls), and they have some really nice colourful kitchen tools. I also love their collection of vintage-inspired aprons – I’ll be looking at those for inspiration when I’m ready to sew one!

I haven’t bought anything there yet, but I’m looking forward to browsing in person!

Monday, September 26, 2011


I’ve decided to be a little more diligent about restaurant reviews. I used to write some up all the time, for my website especially, but now that’s fallen by the wayside. But last night, the Engineer and I had dinner at Dough, a pizzeria serving authentic pizza napoletana that’s gotten rave reviews. We were both really impressed! The place was pretty full and very busy (we counted at least 17 employees), so we sat at the bar, but I think it was the best place to be, because we could watch the chefs throw dough around in the kitchen and put pizzas in the wood-burning oven. Did you know that true Neapolitan pizza is baked only 90 seconds, but at 800 °F? They all looked like they were taking the heat pretty well, though! The bar seats were actually pretty comfortable because they are wide, albeit backless. The décor is what I’d call bistro-type. And I love the fact that so many products are actually made from scratch in the restaurant (like their mozzarella, bread, gelatos, and dough of course!). They also have their own herb garden.

We started with the bruschetta, which was a few thin slices of bread served with hot multicoloured cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic, herbs, olive oil and what I think was parmesan – I really liked it, even though the format was not what I was expecting. We also had sodas: an Italian raspberry soda for me, and a cherry cream soda for the Engineer. Even though the place serves a dairy-free pizza, I decided to take some Lactaid and go with the Pork Love (tomato sauce, house-made fior di latte, salami, sausage, pancetta and speck), while the Engineer had a margherita to which he added olives and sausage. I found the sausage a little too spicy, but I really loved the pizza; I especially like that the tomato sauce is more fresh tomatoes than tomato paste. Next time, I’ll try the Fontina (fontina, oak-roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions and parmesan). We opted not to have dessert, because we had some at home and we didn’t want to overindulge, but after looking at their menu, I’m sure the Engineer and I could have been easily convinced to try the polenta cake and Nutella Panini, respectively. Plus, house-made sorbetto sounds good to me anytime of the day...

Dough is somewhat on the expensive side, but we really liked our dinner and we hope to go there again eventually.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Food allergen detector

Anyone with food allergies knows how hard it can be to eat food that hasn’t been prepared in their household – in some cases, like at a buffet, it’s impossible. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a device that detected the presence of allergens in the food before you even took a bite? Well now, thanks to a concept developed by Swedish designer Erik Borg, it’s one step closer to reality. The video at the link gives more details.

Unfortunately, this is still a primitive prototype, but Philips is behind the R&D, so let’s hope they can have fully functional devices soon!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two-Ingredient Chocolate Mousse

My friends Rob and Jen sent me this recipe they recommended from Serious Eats (the article with video instructions is here, and the recipe, here). It’s for a two-ingredient chocolate mousse that seemed not only too easy to be any good, but also somewhat like it was defying the laws of physics. I’ve always been told to never mix chocolate with water, because something happens with the fat in the chocolate that would ruin the consistency once water mixes with it. Yet this recipe achieves a chocolate mousse by mixing water and chocolate, and nothing else. I decided to give it a go, and let me tell you right now: don’t be put off by the 5 minutes of whisking by hand; it’s really not that bad. And the result, surprising as it is, is so worth it! You do need quality chocolate, obviously, since it’s the only thing you’ll taste, and you end up with a very rich mousse that is lactose-free, but also nut-free, gluten-free and vegan (as long as your chocolate fits those criteria, but if you have those food restrictions, I’m assuming your favourite chocolate does). I loved the result and will definitely make this part of my repertoire!

350 g dark chocolate, chopped
270 g water
cold water and ice, for ice bath

Put equal parts water and ice into a medium bowl for the ice bath.

Boil the 270 g water in a saucepan, or in the microwave, and pour it into a second medium bowl. Add the chopped chocolate and stir with a spatula or whisk until all the pieces are melted, about 2 minutes.

Place the bowl with the chocolate over the ice bath and whisk vigorously. Continue to whisk until the mixture has the consistency of stiffly whipped cream (about 5 minutes), and then quickly divide it between individual serving cups or into a serving bowl. Refrigerate.

Vegetable and Mint Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

I had made vegetable spring rolls once before, but I wanted an actual recipe this time, one with a little more pizzazz than what I had tried before. This one fit the bill, though they are still highly adaptable: I used oyster sauce instead of fish sauce, I omitted the rice noodles and I ended up not using bell peppers, because of a grocery store snafu (we had a package of 3 bell peppers in our cart when we realized that the individual bell peppers were on sale and cheaper than the prepackaged ones, so we put those back and somehow forgot to get the individual ones instead). I also used Korean pepper instead of red pepper flakes. We really loved these rolls, and they were a perfect dish for a hot summer day. I still have to work on my tension when I roll the rice paper, but I’m getting there! We had enough rolls for a meal for two people.

For the sauce
2 Tbsp creamy organic or natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp of red pepper flakes (or Korean pepper)

Whisk together the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

For the rolls
1 ½ oz cellophane noodles (I omitted them)
½ tsp sesame oil
red pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 of a seedless cucumber
1/2 of a medium carrot, peeled
1/2 of a red bell pepper
5 baby radishes or 2-3 medium radishes
1 scallion, chopped
½ Tbsp rice vinegar
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce (or oyster sauce or vegan substitute)
juice from 1/2 lime
2 Tbsp cilantro leaves
16-24 fresh mint leaves (mine were big, so I used fewer)
8 rice paper wrappers

Cook the cellophane noodles according to the package directions. Drain the noodles, put them in a bowl, and toss with the sesame oil and a dash of red pepper flakes.

Use a mandoline to slice the cucumber and carrot into thin strips, or simply julienne by hand.

Whisk together the rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice in a large bowl. Add the vegetables and the scallion, and toss to coat.

Fill a round cake pan halfway with hot water. For each wrapper (one at a time!), immerse it in the hot water bath until it softens, which takes about 30 seconds. Lay it on your work surface and fill it first with about 1-2 tablespoons of noodles (you want to have enough for 8 rolls). Then, add 1/8 of the veggie mixture. Add a few sprigs of cilantro and 2-3 mint leaves, depending on how large they are. To roll up your roll, first fold the edge of the wrapper farthest from you over the filling, then fold in the edges towards the center and continue rolling the filled wrapper towards you until it's closed and snug. If you want to be especially decorative, place the mint leaves closer to the front edge of the wrapper, so that they are rolled into the last layer and show through the top of the finished roll. Continue this process with each of the wrappers. You may need to change your hot water halfway through. As you finish each roll, place it on a cookie sheet and cover the rolls with a damp towel.

To serve, slice in half with a sharp knife and serve the peanut sauce on the side.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Food Plates

The USDA came out with its MyPlate to replace the food pyramid, arguing that the latter was confusing. While I agree that most people will find the new presentation easier, I noticed right away that the USDA recommends dairy as part of every meal – I can’t help but think that’s because it represents the dairy lobby as well as other groups. It also lacks explanations, and even those on the website are dumbed down and incomplete.

Recently, Harvard came out with its own version of the plate, which I much prefer. It has more explanations and precisions, like “whole grains” and “healthy protein” instead of the broad terms used by the USDA. It also includes healthy oils and water. But it left out eggs, for example, and there is still the issue of portion control.

I don’t think either of these plates will revolutionize the way we eat, though. I have a sweet tooth and I love baking, so baked goods often take the place of fruit for dessert (though I do eat fruit at breakfast, and sometimes bake fruity desserts; plus, I bake with whole grains almost exclusively). I also rarely have three dishes on my plate at any given meal; it’s usually more like a main course and a side, and I try to vary the whole grains and vegetables throughout the day. Also, I’m currently a domestic engineer, and I still don’t get all this stuff on my plate at every meal. You want to tell me parents with full-time jobs are going to be making all of this? That being said, I do like Harvard’s plate much more than the USDA’s.

Salade de lentilles fruitée

Bon, j’évitais d’écrire ce billet depuis un certain temps, car il m’est arrivé quelque chose d’inhabituel. J’ai été victime d’une indigestion, qui était peut-être un empoisonnement alimentaire, et j’ai l’impression que c’est à cause de cette salade. Je ne peux pas en être certaine, car l’Ingénieur en a mangé lui aussi, et il n’a eu aucun symptôme. Il faut remonter à l’avant-veille pour trouver un repas où nous avons mangé différentes choses, et c’était dans un café, mais je crois que l’apparition des symptômes serait survenue avant si c’était là le coupable. Ce serait bien la première fois que je tombe malade en mangeant quelque chose que j’ai préparé moi-même! Il paraît que les légumineuses qui n’ont pas été assez cuites peuvent provoquer des symptômes d’empoisonnement alimentaire, et c’était la première fois que j’utilisais les lentilles de Puy que j’ai rapportées de Montréal. Mais je les ai pourtant laissées cuire jusqu’à ce qu’elles commencent à se défaire, alors je ne suis pas certaine que ce soit ça non plus. Toujours est-il que j’ai été sur le dos toute une journée, avec très peu d’appétit les jours suivants. Je n’ai donc pas de photo de la recette que l’Ingénieur a faite à ma place après la salade, soit du poulet avec sauce romesco, qui était excellent (j’en ai mangé la journée suivante).

La salade de lentilles est tirée du livre The Kind Diet; le mélange surprenant d’ingrédient était absolument délicieux, et c’est une salade parfaite pour l’été. Elle est à la fois belle et bonne. Je la recommande, en vous conseillant de très bien faire cuire vos lentilles!

1 tasse de lentilles de Puy
1 pincée de fleur de sel
½ tasse de framboises fraîches (ou fruit de voter choix)
1/8 tasse de basilic frais
1/8 tasse de persil frais
½ tasse de noix de Grenoble hachées (facultatif; j’ai utilisé des amandes)
½ tasse de jus d’orange fraîchement pressé
1 c. à thé de confiture de fraises (j’ai utilisé de la confiture d’abricots)

Rincer les lentilles, en jetant tout débris pouvant s’y trouver. Égoutter et mettre dans une casserole avec 2 tasses d’eau. Porter à ébullition, ajouter une pincé de sel, et laisser mijoter jusqu’à ce que les lentilles soient tendres, environ 30 minutes. Égoutter le liquide de cuisson restant et rincer sous l’eau froide.

Mélanger les fruits, le basilic, le persil et les noix dans un saladier. Ajouter les lentilles et mélanger de nouveau.

Dans un petit bol, mélanger le jus d’orange et la confiture. Verser sur les lentilles et mélanger. Réfrigérer pendant 30 minutes avant de servir.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gâteau aux carottes hawaïen avec glaçage à la noix de coco

Chaque année, l’Ingénieur choisit ce qu’il veut comme gâteau de fête. Cette année, il voulait un gâteau avec des ananas, son fruit préféré. J’ai d’abord pensé à un gâteau renversé aux ananas, mais je trouvais que ça ne cadrait pas avec l’image que j’ai d’un gâteau de fête (un gâteau à étages avec du glaçage). En plus, c’était la prochaine recette qu’il allait faire dans Baking Illustrated, alors ça faisait trop de répétition. J’ai ensuite pensé au gâteau aux carottes de ma grand-mère, qui contient de la purée d’ananas, et j’ai confirmé avec l’Ingénieur qu’un gâteau aux carottes glacé était assez festif. Finalement, j’ai opté pour une adaptation de ce gâteau aux carottes hawaïen avec glaçage à la noix de coco, trouvé dans un dossier du magazine À Bon Verre, Bonne Table contenant une demi-douzaine de variations sur le gâteau aux carottes. Pour le glaçage, j’ai utilisé du vrai fromage à la crème, donc avec lactose; j’aurais pu expérimenter avec des substitutions végétaliennes, mais je ne voulais pas risquer de rater le glaçage d’un gâteau d’anniversaire, alors ce sera pour une prochaine fois. J’ai accompagné le tout d’un sorbet aux ananas.

Pour le gâteau
1 tasse d’ananas en conserve, haché
2½ tasses de farine tout usage
1 c. à soupe de poudre à pâte
2 c. à thé de bicarbonate de soude
1 c. à thé de sel
2 c. à thé de cannelle
1 c. à thé de muscade
1 tasse de beurre, à la température ambiante, ou de margarine froide
1¼ tasse de cassonade dorée
4 œufs
2 c. à thé de vanille
½ tasse de lait sans lactose
4 tasses de carottes râpées

Pour le glaçage à la noix de coco
2 emballages (de 250 g chacun) de fromage à la crème ordinaire, à la température ambiante
1 tasse de beurre, à la température ambiante
¼ tasse de crème sure ou de yogourt grec nature
1 c. à thé de vanille
2½ tasses de sucre à glacer tamisé
1 tasse de noix de coco râpée (j’en ai mis ½ tasse et ça me suffisait)

Pour la garniture
Copeaux de noix de coco

Pour le gâteau
Préchauffer le four à 350 °F. Huiler légèrement 2 moules à gâteau ronds de 9 po; couvrir le fond de papier ciré et huiler de nouveau.

Égoutter les ananas et les hacher finement. Les mettre dans une passoire et appuyer dessus avec une cuillère pour en extraire le plus de jus possible. Mettre de côté.

Verser la farine dans un grand bol. La saupoudrer de la poudre à pâte, du bicarbonate de soude, du sel, de la cannelle et de la muscade. Bien mélanger.

Mettre le beurre dans un grand bol et le battre en crème à l’aide d’un batteur électrique. Incorporer la cassonade au fouet et continuer à battre à vitesse moyenne pendant environ 3 minutes. Incorporer ensuite les œufs, suivis de la vanille. Pendant que le batteur tourne à basse vitesse, ajouter environ le tiers du mélange de farine et fouetter jusqu’à ce que la préparation soit tout juste homogène, puis ajouter la moitié du lait. Répéter la séquence des ajouts en terminant par la farine. La pâte sera très épaisse. Incorporer graduellement les ananas et les carottes râpées.

Répartir la pâte entre les moules. L’étaler jusqu’aux parois du moule. Pour éliminer les poches d’air, frapper les moules cinq ou six fois sur le comptoir. Cuire jusqu’à ce que le milieu du gâteau semble bien pris quand on tape doucement sur le moule (de 40 à 45 minutes). Laisser refroidir les gâteaux sur une grille, dans leur moule. Démouler les gâteaux au bout d’environ 15 minutes et les laisser refroidir complètement sur une grille.

Pour le glaçage
Couper le fromage à la crème en morceaux. Mettre le beurre dans un bol et le fouetter au batteur électrique jusqu’à ce qu’il soit crémeux. Ajouter la crème sure et la vanille tout en fouettant. Ramener le batteur à basse vitesse et incorporer le fromage à la crème, un morceau à la fois. Ne pas trop fouetter pour que le glaçage ne soit pas trop fluide. Ajouter environ le tiers du sucre à glacer et fouetter à basse vitesse jusqu’à ce qu’il soit tout juste incorporé. Racler de temps à autre les parois du bol et les fouets. Ajouter petit à petit le reste du sucre et fouetter jusqu’à ce que le glaçage soit tout juste homogène. S’il est trop fluide, ajouter un peu de sucre et s’il est trop épais, ajouter un peu de crème sure. Incorporer la noix de coco au glaçage.

Pour l'assemblage
Glacer les gâteaux selon votre humeur (pour moi, ça veut dire deux étages avec du glaçage tout autour; dans la recette d’origine, c’est quatre étages avec du glaçage seulement entre les étages.) Garnir de copeaux de noix de coco. Il est préférable de réfrigérer le gâteau plusieurs heures avant le service.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Flouncy Tank Top

I got this pattern from Sew Everything Workshop, by Diana Rupp. It’s a wonderful book that I’m using to learn how to sew; it’s full of great explanations and has some really nice patterns as well. This one was pretty easy; you trace your own pattern in one of three sizes and stitch it together, with a little gathering on the top piece. I used Swedish tracing paper as pattern paper, which I recommend: it’s thicker than regular pattern paper and is therefore more resistant – you can even use it as muslin and sew with it directly to see how the finished garment will look!

Apart from the initial investment of the book (which I’d buy again tomorrow if I lost it) and the pattern paper (which isn’t too expensive, and there’s plenty on the roll), this project was free. I used the leftover fabric and thread from my dress and had just enough. In the picture below, take into consideration that each long strip of pattern paper had to be cut twice. I have about a 12-inch square left, which I’m keeping in case I ever need it (to make a pocket on a tote bag, for example), but I consider that fabric used up. It was originally $4.90 a yard, though, and you need about 1 ½ yards of it. You also need a hook and eye closure for the back; I happened to have a shirt that I was no longer wearing and that had 10 pairs (!) of decorative hook and eye closures on the sleeves, so I put those in my notions collection, along with its three buttons.

With the sturdy Swedish tracing paper I had, I was able to get a better idea of the finished size of the tank top, so I adjusted it a bit by shortening the top band. I also modified the pattern a bit to stitch the top band: either the original pattern had a typo, or the instructions were totally over my head, but what I did makes complete sense to me and gives a finished look to the garment, so I’m sticking with it. I shortened the hem by 3 inches as well, since the tunic look didn’t suit me. I was hoping I could wear the top as is, but since there’s a 6-inch slit down the back, I really do have to wear it over a t-shirt. I really like it, though, and it’s the first thing I make that I wear in public. I’m extremely pleased with it!

Pasta with Goat Cheese and Basil Oil

This easy and lovely recipe is from Real Simple. I can’t make it lactose-free here, because I haven’t found lactose-free goat cheese yet, but those of you in Quebec can buy lactose-free goat cheese (Damafro brand). I didn’t have gemelli pasta, even though I love it, so I used what I had on hand. I took basil from my bush outside (it’s completely overgrown and is really more of a bush than a simple plant now). I’ve amended the recipe, though, because the 1 cup basil that is used as a topping should really be a very thin chiffonade, or shredded in very small pieces, otherwise it’s not all that pleasant to eat. The basil oil, though, is pure genius. I loved this dish, and the Engineer even declared that he actually liked the goat cheese in this pasta! Top with freshly cracked black pepper to serve.

12 oz gemelli or other short pasta (gluten-free if necessary)
3 cups fresh basil leaves, divided (2 cups as is, 1 cup cut into a thin chiffonade)
½ cup olive oil
4 oz crumbled lactose-free fresh goat cheese
kosher salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a blender, purée 2 cups of the basil leaves with the oil until smooth; pour through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids.

Toss the pasta with the basil oil, goat cheese, the remaining 1 cup basil leaves, and season to taste.

Vegan Thumbprint Cookies

I made these cookies mostly because I was trying to use up some jam (the jam compartment in my fridge door was alarmingly full). I used Bonne Maman apricot jam, but I’m sure these would be good with something like raspberry or blackberry, too. Make sure you use quality jam! The recipe is adaptable, too, as you could use pecans or hazelnuts instead of the almonds, whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, or you could throw some coconut in there. I absolutely loved these cookies when they were fresh out of the oven and still warm, but they do tend to dry out quickly and are best the day they are made. The dough keeps well in the fridge, though, so you can make a dozen each day if you want. I didn’t realize that the recipe makes 4 dozen, which is too much for me; I’ve scaled down the recipe below by half, so you should get about 2 dozen. I used the rest of my dough to make granola, because I didn’t want to waste anything, but the Engineer’s birthday was coming up and I didn’t want cookies in the house along with birthday cake! Luckily, the dough makes great granola, and the latter keeps very well.

1 cups whole almonds
2 cups quick-cooking oats (I used rolled oats; use certified gluten-free oats if needed)
1/8 tsp salt
¾ cups flour, divided
½ cup canola oil
½ cup maple syrup
assorted jams of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat.

In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are chopped into smallish pieces. It's OK if you have a variety of sizes, just don't grind them to almond flour. Dump the almonds into a large bowl.

Using the same food processor bowl, grind the oats with the salt into a fine meal and add to the almonds. Again, I like to leave a little texture in the oats. Add ½ cup + 2 Tbsp of flour, reserving the remaining 2 Tbsp.

Measure and pour the canola oil into the bowl, followed by the maple syrup. (Doing it in this order with the same measuring cup means that all the maple syrup will glide out effortlessly.) Mix with a wooden spoon until combined. If the dough seem runny, add the additional flour but don't worry if it is too soft, as it will stiffen up a bit as it sits. Let it sit for about 15 minutes.

Form into rough balls about the size of a whole walnut (you can use a cookie-sized ice cream scoop for this). The dough will be slightly wet but surprisingly not too sticky. The cookies can be fairly close together as they don't spread much. Using the back of a round quarter-teaspoon measuring spoon, make an indentation in the top of each cookie. Wipe the spoon clean and use it to fill the indentation with your jam of choice.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown slightly. Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes before moving to a rack to cool further (they're a bit fragile when they first come out of the oven). Keep in an airtight container at room temperature.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Skippy Natural

It had been complicated for me to find a favourite brand of peanut butter. You see, I like the texture of the peanut butter of my childhood, but I don’t like the fact that it contains hydrogenated oil, which I want to avoid. Natural peanut butters don’t contains that, but the consistency and taste different; you have to keep the jar in the fridge and mix the bitter before using it, which is a bit of a hassle. I didn’t like it as much, though both kinds have their place.

I now have something that bridges the gap between the two: Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, which does not contain hydrogenated oil, but has the same taste and consistency as my childhood peanut butter. It can be kept at room temperature, you don’t need to stir it, and it doesn’t contain sugar, preservatives or artificial flavours or colors. It gets its consistency from palm oil, so it does contain saturated fats, but it’s vegetable oil and I trust it more than others.

While we’re on the subject, I tasted Barney Butter this summer: it’s almond butter (free from cross-contamination with other nuts) that has the same consistency as the peanut butter I like. I really liked this nut butter and would substitute it for peanut butter in any recipe. I was thrilled to know of its existence, because before this, the only non-peanut nut butters I had seen were the natural kind that you keep in the fridge – like I said, they’re good, but sometimes, you need the thicker stuff. 

Super glue that is actually super

Let me first assure you that this is not a sponsored post; Loctite® doesn’t even have any idea that I exist. I do, however, want to recommend one of their products, their Ultra Gel Control™ Super Glue. You see, I have a pair of Bass sandals (well, two pairs of the same model) that is my absolute favourite, because it has never ever given me a blister – and you know that in my case, that’s saying a lot, as I tend to get blisters very easily. The pair I had been wearing every summer for the past 16 years (!) had come apart a bit last summer; one of the straps had to be glued back into place into the sole. I had gone to a professional cobbler to have this done. This summer, two more straps on the same pair came undone, but when I took it to a cobbler here (which seem to be fewer and further apart than in Montreal), he flat out refused to touch it. He said that the soles were too worn and that it wasn’t worth fixing the straps. I was heartbroken, because the truth is that I’ve never been able to find sandals this comfortable since I bought them (there was a pair of Land’s End sandals that came close, but it’s starting to break after only two summers, and the company isn’t making anything like it anymore). I really didn’t want to have to get rid of them.

Enter this awesome glue by Loctite® which, according to the company, “is precise and tough and resists impact, moisture, and temperature extremes.” A random magazine ad recommended to apply the adhesive between the sole and shoe, then firmly join the surfaces together and weigh the shoe down with a heavy object for 24 hours. So I did, and it worked! The sandals have held up since then, though I admit I haven’t ventured very far from the house with them. I also like that the container makes it really easy to apply the rubber adhesive without making a mess or risking getting some on your fingers. The glue was also less expensive than the one strap repair at the cobbler’s the first time, so it’s already paid for itself – not to mention I can now wear my favourite sandals again.

I also used the Ultra Gel Control™ Super Glue to bond a piece of plastic to a piece of wood. This is on a decorative “cup” that holds my toothpaste and toothbrush. The bottom (plastic) had separated from the rest (wood) pretty soon after I got it, probably only due to poor workmanship. I had used Krazy Glue a few times, but it always came undone. The Loctite®, though, hasn’t come undone yet (I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’ll hold up). While I think the tube of Loctite contains less than the tube of Krazy Glue, I think I’m ready to switch allegiance.

Spiced Chicken Salad with Plums and Chickpeas

This recipe from Real Simple attracted me because it was a full, healthy meal all on one plate. I did have some doubts as I was making the chicken, though, because the recipe seemed somewhat Greek-inspired to me, what with the red onion, garlic, red wine vinegar and plain Greek yogurt, but then it calls for garam masala, a spice that I associate with Indian cooking. But I followed the recipe and let the chicken marinate all afternoon. And wouldn’t you know it, it was a huge hit. The chicken was moist and delicious, and the mix of spices was fantastic. The Engineer mentioned three or four times how much he liked it! I’ll definitely be making this again, and I might occasionally make just the marinated chicken and serve it with another side dish. Do try it, you won’t regret it!

1 small red onion, half coarsely chopped and half sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp garam masala
¾ cup low-fat lactose-free Greek yogurt, divided
¼ cup plus Tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
kosher salt and black pepper
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large head romaine lettuce, torn
1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, rinsed
¼ cup sliced dried apricots
1 plum, pitted and thinly sliced (I used 2 total, ½ plum per serving)

In a blender, purée the chopped onion and the garlic with the garam masala, ½ cup of the yogurt, ¼ cup of the vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the chicken, and turn to coat. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Shake the excess marinade off the chicken. Cook the chicken until browned and cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of yogurt, 2 Tbsp of vinegar, and 1 Tbsp of oil with 1 Tbsp water, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the lettuce, chickpeas, and sliced onion and toss to combine. Top with the chicken, apricots, and plum.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


After our trip to the museum, The Engineer and I decided to have lunch at Nosh, which I’d been meaning to try. It’s a bistro that prides itself on serving “small plates, big taste”, and we heartily agree. I had the sliders (when they’re on the menu, it’s hard for me to resist!), with garlic fries, and the Engineer had fish tacos. We both really liked our meals, though next time I might try the sampler plate of sliders (instead of three sliders with beef patties, you get one beef patty, one pork and one crab; since the Engineer always gets one of my sliders, I’d give him the crab and keep the other two). The pork lemongrass meatballs and Korean beef tacos also caught my attention, but that’ll be for another visit. I also tried a virgin backporch lemonade, which had lemon, cranberry juice and ginger syrup, with Sprite instead of the vodka. Best. Thing. Ever. For dessert, we had the Italian donut holes (zeppoli) served with dark and white chocolate truffle sauce; I’m usually a big fan of dark chocolate, but this time, the white sauce totally won me over – I think it was some sort of vanilla custard with white chocolate, and when we ran out of donut holes, I just kept dipping my fork in it to get more.

The cozy place filled up quickly, but it’s bigger than it looks from the outside. There are big chalks at each table, so you can either draw on the white paper topping the table or play tic-tac-toe on the chalkboard walls. Service was friendly and efficient. I’d love to go there again to keep sampling the menu!

The McNay Museum

I’ve convinced the Engineer to adopt a new rule in our household. It’s somewhat like a resolution, but I enjoy Bill Maher’s New Rules, so I’ve kept that term. I’ve declared (and after listening to my reasoning, the Engineer has agreed) that each month, we would make the effort to do an activity in or around San Antonio. There are so many things we’ve been meaning to do, but we somehow never quite get around to doing them. This way, though, we force ourselves to get out of the house each month and check something off our list. We decided to start off September by visiting the McNay Museum; it’s $8 per person, but admission is free on the first Sunday of each month.

Honestly, I wish we had gone much sooner. It’s a small museum in what used to be a private house (much like the Philipps Collection in Washington), but it houses an extraordinary collection of art. If you’re looking for big names, this is it! There are paintings by O’Keefe, Picasso, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Chagal, Matisse, Rousseau and Rivera (to whom I refer as Frida’s husband), as well as sculptures by Rodin, just to name some of the artists. We saw Medieval and Renaissance religious works from as early as the 15th century (including a painting on wood of St. Bonaventure that fascinated me) as well as modern religious sculpture from New Mexico. I hadn’t brought my camera with me, but it turns out you’re allowed to take pictures (without flash) of any item in the permanent collection! You can also dial a number with your cellphone to get an audio guide to some of the artwork.

If you go, don’t forget to enjoy the patio in the courtyard, which has beautiful plants along with a fountain and lily pads. The Spanish-colonial house itself is very impressive, and there are numerous modern sculptures on the grounds. You might also see some weddings (we were there around 10:30 this morning and saw four different brides posing for pictures).

I also discovered an artist whose work I fell in love with: Carl Rice Embrey, who’s a local painter doing meticulous realism. When I saw the first of his canvases, I thought of Alex Colville, but this is way more real; it’s like a high-def piece of art that could pass for a photograph. The image below, though not as impressive as the original, was my favourite in the exhibit. It’s titled Edith.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Oz Diet

I want to share the link to a really great article published in Time , ”The Oz Diet”, written by the wonderful Dr. Oz to demystify the hoopla surrounding certain foods – what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat, and why. I loved not only how well written the article was, but also how well researched and informative it was. As with many things, it’s not a question of all-or-nothing, and there isn’t a single diet that works for everyone, but it’s nice to see the explanations as to why we have believed, for example, that meat, pasta and eggs were in turn evil or silver bullets, and for what reasons. Take the time to read it!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m sure you remember my quest for chocolate chip cookies, and the fact that I ended the month of May with a Texas showdown of the two top contenders from my new recipes. This time, for my 600th post, I decided to make the whole wheat chocolate chip cookies from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce (and if you haven’t bought the book already, do so).

These whole wheat cookies are big (like the 36-hour cookies). I have to admit, though, that since I already use white whole wheat flour as my regular all-purpose flour, I didn’t notice that much of a difference between these and “standard” cookies. I did, however, feel slightly more virtuous as I ate them! The whole wheat does a lot to tame the sweetness of the cookies, while complementing the chocolate nicely. These cookies are delicious, which is all the more impressive since recipes that call for only whole wheat flour (as opposed to whole wheat flour as well as all-purpose white flour) are very rare, as trying to make a cake like that would probably result in making a brick. But not here; everything I’ve made from that book turns out great, and there are many more recipes I want to try.

I ended up changing the recipe a bit. You see, I didn’t read ahead, so I didn’t realize that the recipe calls for cold butter. Since I use margarine (no lactose), I should have put the margarine in the freezer ahead of time to compensate, but I hadn’t. I chose to let the dough chill in the fridge for 24 hours before baking it, which resulted in thicker cookies, and that was probably the intent of the unusual instruction in the first place. As a bonus, it intensifies the flavour. I also froze the leftovers once I had baked a dozen; I got 20 cookies in all.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes (or use margarine that you’ve put in the freezer)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into ¼- and ½-inch pieces (or bittersweet chips, but do try chopping)

Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. (I used silpats; you can butter the baking sheets, but chocolate will still stick to them.)

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in sifter. Whisk to blend.

Put the butter and sugars in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients. (I did this right in the bowl with a wooden spoon.)

Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet. (I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the dough.)

Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes (15 to 17 minutes did the trick for me, and I like my cookies chewy), rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly browned. Transfer the cookies, still on parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They’ll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (Or you can always keep raw dough in your fridge for up to a week, or in your freezer.)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Stone Fruit Slaw

I adapted this recipe from Bon Appétit. To tell you the truth, I didn’t mean to adapt it this much, but my plums and peaches were ripe, and the julienned pieces turned to mush. I ended up slicing most of the fruit, so the presentation changed a lot and it was no longer a slaw. It was, however, absolutely delicious. The peaches were just perfect! I did adapt the dressing, on purpose this time, to use toasted sesame oil instead of plain vegetable oil and Korean pepper instead of crushed red pepper flakes. I definitely recommend my version, you won’t regret it. It would also be a great complement to chicken or pork, or even good as just a snack.

1 Tbsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (I recommend toasted sesame oil)
2 tsp (packed) light brown sugar
¼ tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (I recommend Korean pepper instead)
1 ½ lbs assorted firm stone fruit (about 5; such as plums, nectarines, peaches, or apricots), julienned
2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add fruit and scallions; toss gently to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Flaky Mushroom and Gruyère Tarts

I got this recipe from Real Simple. These tarts really don’t require a lot of work (at least, not if you buy puff pastry instead of making it), but they are very satisfying and there’s room for improvisation. I couldn’t find puff pastry at my grocery store, so I ended up with puff pastry shells. This was a bad idea for two reasons: one, they were too small for the tarts, and two, you have to bake the shell in order for the pastry to pop up enough to be able to remove the top and fill them. But you see, the filling was supposed to go in before the crust was even baked! I ended up remedying the problem by baking the shells just enough to be able to fill them, then put the filled tarts in the oven for a little less time. For the leftover filling the second day, I toasted some sliced bread, then topped it with mushrooms and cheese and popped that in the oven. The Engineer and I both thought these tarts were fantastic, in either incarnation, and we even liked the mushrooms!

I used a mix of baby brown pearls and portabella mushrooms, but Real Simple also recommends button mushrooms, cremini, shiitake and oyster. I recommend Gruyère or Swiss cheese, as those are usually lactose-free, but feel free to experiment. You can also make these gluten-free either by making your own puff pastry (Gluten-Free Girl and Tartelette, among others, both have recipes on their blogs, which I’ve bookmarked but haven’t had time to make yet) or by using gluten-free bread or pie dough. Serve with a green salad (or, as on the last picture with the toast version of these tarts, with a stone fruit slaw).

1 sheet puff pastry (half a 17.3-oz package), thawed (or gluten-free alternative, see above)
4 Tbsp olive oil
10 oz assorted mushrooms (such as button, cremini, shiitake and oyster), sliced
1 shallot, sliced
kosher salt and black pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
4 oz Gruyère or sharp white Cheddar, grated (1 cup)

Heat oven to 400 °F. Unfold the pastry and cut it into 4 squares. Place the squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet and, using a fork, prick the dough all over.

Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and shallot and season with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned and tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute more.

Dividing evenly, sprinkle the pastry squares with half the cheese, leaving a ½-inch border on each. Top with the mushroom mixture and remaining cheese. Bake until pastry is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Jen's Best Cranberry Muffins

My friend Jen shared this recipe, which she adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Best Blueberry Muffin recipe (you can read it here). She once made it with leftover cranberry sauce I foisted upon her instead of the jam and she recommends it. I made it to use up some frozen cranberries I had, so I made the jam; I reduced the amount of sugar in the muffins a tad as well. These muffins were fantastic! They’re everything you’d expect from muffins, jammy on the inside, with a good moist crumb and sweet crunchy outside, all under a perfectly domed top. I think this recipe would work really well for any type of berry. Definitely a keeper!

For the topping
1/3 cup sugar (2 1/3 ounces)
1 ½ tsp finely grated zest, from 1 orange

For the muffins
3 cups cranberries, rinsed and dried, divided
1 cup sugar + 1 tsp sugar, divided
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12.5 oz)
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp unsalted butter or margarine, melted and cooled slightly (½ stick)
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (use lactose-free milk with a dash of lemon juice or vinegar)
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping
Stir together sugar and orange zest in small bowl until combined; set aside.

For the muffins
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 °F. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray (or grease the old-fashioned way).

Bring 1 ½ cups cranberries and 1 tsp sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to ¼ cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl.

Whisk remaining 1 cup sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined.

Toss remaining 1 ½ cups cranberries in flour mixture. Then, using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture into cranberries and flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

Use ice cream scoop or large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon 1 tsp of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using a chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle orange sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.