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Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Lemon Ricotta Muffins

In Breakfasts, Desserts on December 28, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Over the holidays, we typically eat a lot of indulgent foods. The desserts, cookies, cakes, chocolates and all that.. but also delicious breakfasts. Muffins are relatively easy to make and these are no exception. What use is breakfast if you spend all day making them? Ricotta tends to add a nice light texture to baked goods and these were delicious with a light lemon flavour. I found them a bit on the dry side and I wonder whether that was because I used light ricotta.  The recipe was adapted from A Year in the Kitchen, who adapted them from Rosa’s Yummy Yums. A perfect muffin which contrasted and complemented our overindulgences this holiday season.

This is my submission for the new year’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Everything at Least Once.

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Salmon Teriyaki Miso Soup with Udon and Spinach

In Mains (Fish), Soups on December 23, 2009 at 9:18 AM

This is one of those stalker-like posts, but with a purely good reason. This month Tried and Tasted is scouring recipes at Closet Cooking! Before I started my own blog, I was a loyal follower of Closet Cooking.  Kevin, who also hails from Toronto, cooks with very creative ingredients and always has tasty posts.  I have always wanted to take a peak into his “closet kitchen” to see his cupboards, as he whips up such imaginative meals… and how does he manage to eat all this food (he has almost daily posts!)??  Furthermore, he shares a similar love of Japanese cuisine, so there is no shortage of inspirational recipes, including tons of fish recipes that look both tasty and easy, including Maple SalmonMisoyaki Salmon, and Broiled Halibut with Orange and Miso Glaze. I love how Kevin includes alternative recipes when he is faced with left-overs, so with my leftover salmon teriyaki, I thought his Salmon Noodle Soup (which I rechristened Salmon Teriyaki Miso Soup with Udon and Spinach) would be perfect.

A few notes, first, about Japanese ingredients in Toronto. There are many Asian markets in Toronto, some larger than others. This is a continuation from my post about soy sauce, mirin, and sake. My favourite stores (for price, variety and high turnover) are T&T and BestWin, but J-Town is also worth a trek up north.  It is worth looking into smaller stores, because some carry Japanese ingredients, including tiny mom-and-pop shops like D&Y Market. I have learned a few things about brands, so here are my recommendations:

Dashi – Dashi is the traditional soup stock of Japan, in both vegetarian and fish options. I have made it homemade, but sometimes I find it easier to use powder (Ajinomoto makes a good dashi). It is a fairly common brand and should be found at most Asian markets, including PAT and T&T.

Miso – Miso is a salty paste made from fermented soybeans (also rice or barley).  Miso soups are fairly common and easy to make but miso can also be used for sauces, spreads, for meat, etc.  There are many different kinds of miso, and not all are interchangeable, so it is worthwhile figuring things out as red misos are more salty, white misos less so.  Maki at Just Hungry has a great primer on miso.  I usually buy mine at T&T, but it is widely available and can be found in well-stocked grocery stores like Metro, Loblaws, etc. Basically, I look to see if it is white or red miso. I store it in the refrigerator.

Shiitake mushrooms – Shiitake are Japan’s most famous mushroom, but also hails from China. Known for its meaty, woody aroma, they are widely used in Japanese cuisine. They can be bought fresh or dried. Look for mushrooms that are whole. Dried mushrooms can be kept indefinitively if stored in a cool, dark place. They need to be rehydrated for 20-30 minutes with water, before use.  When looking for Asian mushrooms, there is no contest, you have to go to an Asian market. You can find them in the typical Sobeys, Loblaws, etc, but they are incredibly expensive. At T&T, BestWin and in Chinatown they are much more reasonably priced. I think at T&T I have seen fresh shiitake mushrooms for $2-3/lb. When looking for dried, I have found them in the same stores. They can be called shiitake, or flower mushrooms and winter mushrooms (from their Chinese names).

Udon – Udon are the thick, chewy Japanese noodles made from wheat flour. When I returned from Japan, I almost thought I was deprived of great udon when I tried the fresh stuff. I learned, though, that frozen is the way to go. I have tried the black package of Sanuki udon from T&T and love it. I plan to make udon from scratch one day, but until then, this stuff is great. Sanuki udon means it comes from a specific prefecture in Japan (Kagawa) and are chewier, thicker noodles (my favourite!).

Now onto the soup: It was wonderful.  Japanese cuisine is all about balancing salty, sweet, sour, bitter and spicy and the sweet teriyaki worked wonderfully with the salty miso, meaty mushrooms and bitter/spicy green onions. I will now plan to make excess salmon teriyaki just so I can make this soup!! Delicious! 😀

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Salmon Teriyaki

In Favourites, Mains (Fish) on December 22, 2009 at 6:41 PM

When I go to a restaurant, I usually like to order stuff at restaurants that I can’t make at home.. because I know I can make it better.  Salmon teriyaki is one of those dishes, especially when you go to the cheaper Japanese restos. It can be anywhere from charred, blackened, dry and ooky sweet. But it is really easy to make at home, so now I don’t even bother with it when I go out.

First of all, I combined recipes from numerous sources, including many of Kimiko Barber’s cookbooks (The Japanese Kitchen, Yo Sushi, Japanese Pure and Simple), where each had different ratios for her teriyaki sauce. I like this ratio of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar (3:3:3:1), although each portion can be changed depending on tastes. I found this recipe to create a light, flaky, tender salmon with a sweet glaze. There is enough teriyaki sauce for more than the salmon (the recipe can be halved, as long as you keep the same ratios). We drizzled it over spinach as a side salad and it was incredible.  The sauce can keep for up to 2 months in the fridge.

While there are only 5 ingredients, and simple to make, it can be daunting as the ingredients are not pantry staples (unless you cook Japanese regularly). I highly encourage you to try this simple dish, so for those in Toronto, this is where I shop:

Soy sauce – I like Japanese soy sauce, which tends to run a bit sweeter, but also best for Japanese dishes.  Furthermore, there are different kinds of Japanese soy sauce – regular dark, light, reduced-sodium and tamari.  Light is only light in colour if you don’t want to discolor a dish. I typically buy regular dark or reduced-sodium and prefer Yamasa and Kikkoman, which aren’t that expensive. They can be found at any Asian market, including T&T, BestWin and J-Town. Shops in Chinatown should have it too.

Mirin – Mirin is a sweet rice wine, used as a sweetener and to add a glossy shine to foods. There are a few types of mirin, including aji-mirin (“mirin taste”) and mirin-fu chomiryo (“a kind of mirin”) as well as hon-mirin (“true mirin”). Hon-mirin has simpler ingredients; true hon-mirin has alcohol and no salt, and shio-mirin has alcohol with 1.5% salt. The difference is the alcoholic content. Shin-mirin (“new mirin”) has less than 1% alcohol, but still has the same flavour. Whereas the aji-mirin or mirin style sweet cooking seasoning has an ingredient list that starts with corn syrup and 8 other ingredients. I was only able to find aji-mirin at T&T and even J-Town, but found shin-mirin (basically look at the ingredient list- water, rice, koji (aspergillus oryzae) and sea salt) at Whole Foods and Noah’s. I think P.A.T. might also carry shin-mirin, and it looks like hon-mirin is impossible to find in Toronto. I’d love to know if anyone has found it elsewhere, and cheaper. I store my mirin in the refrigerator once opened.

Sake – Sake is a Japanese rice wine. I mistakenly bought a cooking sake from T&T, but I think it was just a mislabeled chinese cooking wine. Now I go to the LCBO to get sake. There is a bigger bottle, cheaper on the per mL basis which is what I get (Gekkeikan, 750mL). I store it in the refrigerator and it lasts pretty long.

Salmon – There are different kinds of salmon, but from a sustainability point-of-view wild Pacific salmon is the best way to go as per SeaChoice.  I don’t know what T&T carries, likely Atlantic farmed, as the price is always reasonable ($6-7/lb).

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Salmon Fillet Wrapped in Phyllo Pastry

In Favourites, Mains (Fish) on December 20, 2009 at 12:28 PM

I had a few blunders in the kitchen last week, so much so that when I was hosting a dinner party at my apartment, I decided to forego new recipes and serve a tried-and-true quick and easy, tasty dish: Salmon Fillet Wrapped in Phyllo Pastry. Despite sounding incredibly French, I actually got the recipe from a wonderful Japanese cookbook, The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber.  Barber explains that the phyllo dough is a substitute for yuba sheets, which can be hard to find in North America.

The trick for this kind of dish  is to use thick pieces of salmon so that the fish cooks the same length of time it takes to bake the phyllo dough.

This salmon is incredibly tasty and great for a spiffy meal on a weekday as it bakes up quickly.  I figured working with phyllo could be pretty fool-proof, but as I learned, not when you forget to thaw it beforehand. We had the phyllo overtop the oven, hoping to thaw it faster, and still had to deal with holes as we were incredibly inpatient and ripped it apart.  The holes can be easily hidden, though. We ended up eating dessert first (Cranberry Buckle with Vanilla Crumb), which stole the show, in my opinion.

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Cranberry Buckle With Vanilla Crumb

In Desserts, Favourites on December 19, 2009 at 6:01 PM

After figuring out the technical details of a buckle (a cake with fruit in the batter topped with a crisp topping), I learned that I had already made a few, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I really enjoyed the rhubarb big crumb coffee cake and my dad refused to let me leave with the leftovers (it was that good). I had also made the blueberry crumb bars, liked them enough but found them too heavy with butter. I love fruit dancing in my cakes, and a streusel topping makes everything great, so I was eager to try a Cranberry Buckle with Vanilla Crumb, as it was from a wonderful cookbook by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson: Rustic Fruit Desserts.

I absolutely adore cranberries, especially fresh, as you could probably guess by the number of recipes on the blog that include cranberries.  I love fresh cranberries as they are slightly tart and match well with sweet desserts. Perfectly in season for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The verdict? It made all my previous baking blunders from the week disappear… we were able to enjoy it still hot from the oven.  It was sinfully delicious with fresh cranberries speckled throughout the cake with a lovely, lovely vanilla crumb topping. I think the topping is one of the highlights, especially with the noticeable vanilla (it really isn’t a hint or w whiff of vanilla; I could taste it!). I halved the recipe, as I was going to feed a small number of people.. but I wish I had made more! The photo is from the remaining leftovers… not much left! Thank goodness, I have more crumb topping in reserve for the next buckle. 😀 Enjoy!!

This is my submission to Sugar High Fridays for this month.

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Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumb Crust

In Desserts on December 18, 2009 at 2:52 PM

Now that snow has finally arrived (and then promptly disappeared), it officially feels like winter. I still can’t believe I was still able to bike around Toronto (safely, sans snow, sans grizzly subzero wind) into the first week of December! Now I am on a quest to find a sustainable activity for the winter… preferably of the indoor variety.

I made this pumpkin custard for dessert for Thanksgiving, and it was great.  A nice mix of pumpkin with traditional flavours like cinnamon, ginger and cloves. It was very rich with the cream. After a filling meal, we found the ramekin portions to be a bit too big. Very delicious, but better in small quantities. My suggestion would be to use smaller ramekins, which would yield more portions (halving the recipe might be better then).

The recipe was adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts, by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.  I bought the book after making the most delicious cake, ever (Stone Fruit Tea Cake on gourmet.com), and will likely post that recipe eventually as well. In the meantime, this custard is a good start.

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Lemon Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles

In Desserts on December 14, 2009 at 6:11 AM

Chocolate truffles are one of those things that looks really hard to make, but in reality, there are some super simple recipes out there that produce wonderful chocolate treats.  When you have to temper chocolate, that takes some skill or at least a thermometer, but simple chocolate ganache (chocolate + cream) with assorted flavours and toppings can go a long way.

I picked this recipe because of the dark chocolate and it didn’t disappoint. Easy and tasty. My family adores the dark stuff. The quality of the dark chocolate is important, so pick wisely.  I used 70% dark chocolate and it was wonderful with the lemon, which may at first seem unusual but paired well. I loved the grated chocolate topping with the interesting texture. I find truffles coated only in cocoa powder to be too harsh/bitter, so this worked well. My only problem was I transported them in the summer once, and the delicate outer chocolate topping melted during the drive in the car.  These definitely need to be stored in the fridge due to the fresh lemon juice.

This recipe was adapted from Truffles: 50 Deliciously Decadent Homemade Chocolate Treats by Dede Wilson.

I am submitting this to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Haalo from Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once.

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Earl Grey Tea Shortbread Cookies

In Desserts on December 13, 2009 at 3:48 PM

I debated whether I should put these cookies on the blog. I had high hopes for them, despite mixed reviews, but tackled them regardless.  I was initially disappointed with the results. However, friends loved them and I agreed that they tasted better the next day.. so much so, that I couldn’t stop munching on them and there are none left… so they must be good as my tummy will attest. 😛

This is a slice-and-bake shortbread-like cookie with a hint of Earl Grey tea and lemon.  It is a pretty simple cookie with only a few ingredients.  I found a sharp chef’s knife helped to cut the cookies without too much crumble (some cookies still needed to be sacrificed, though). I used the tea leaves from 5 bags of Earl grey tea but the next time I try it, I will buy some loose leaf tea.  Since Earl Grey is the main flavour, it would be best not to use subprime tea.  I also plan to coat the outside with sugar, as I am still on a quest for a better Earl Grey shortbread. I have a recipe I want to try, as we were served them at the tea event run by the George Brown cooking club (Tastes of Tomorrow). However, I need to find a scale first. UPDATE: That much better recipe has been posted here.

The recipe is slightly altered from the Martha Stewart original, found in Martha Stewart’s Cookies, and also reprinted online here.

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Cranberry-Walnut Pumpkin Coffeecake

In Breakfasts, Desserts on December 13, 2009 at 8:55 AM

Can a coffeecake be served as part of breakfast or brunch? Sure! I love how, in theory, most of my dishes for breakfast or brunch also double as desserts. What a sweet breakfast! 😀 In actuality, I usually have a pretty standard breakfast of Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli with maybe a fruit thrown in on the side, and the baked goods get added to my lunch as dessert.

I liked the following pumpkin coffeecake from A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash by Lou Seibert Pappas. It wasn’t in-your-face pumpkin flavour, more mellow with a hint of spice, but there was an interesting texture with the cornmeal and nicely moist. The walnut topping added a nice crunch. I doubled the amount of fresh cranberries (to 2 cups) which was good, if not bursting with cranberry. Only 1 cup would have been piddly.  I don’t think I have professed my love of fresh cranberries, yet… but I will.. with one of my many cranberry recipes in the draft folder. 🙂


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Cinnamon Snaps

In Desserts, Favourites on December 12, 2009 at 11:12 AM

The task was to describe your favourite holiday cookie. To tantalize your taste buds with only a few sentences; to pique your curiosity; to share your holiday traditions. Everyone voted for those they wanted to make it to the bake off. From the top 3, they will be made and tasted and the ultimate winner chosen for this year’s Virtual Cookie Swap.

This was my submission for my tried-and-true Cinnamon Snaps:

I have made them for the past few years and they never last until Christmas! They are a lovely variation on a gingersnap, but instead of ginger it is filled with a strong cinnamon taste. The cookies are slightly crispy on the outside but inside soft, melt-in-your-mouth, covered with a cinnamon-sugar topping that sparkles in your mouth. They are best straight from the oven but try to leave some for others to try. And bonus, it is an easy recipe to make. 😀

I originally found the recipe online, source unknown, but my google prowess shows a slightly modified version on the Taste of Home website (from Country Woman March/April 2001, p29).

I will definitely be making these shortly, but still devouring recipes to figure out which other cookies will be coming out this year. It will be a battle of the rugelach, for sure, so stayed tuned for the results of that.

I am submitting this to Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 3, hosted by Food Blogga.

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Kidney Beans Stewed in Red Wine with Tomatoes and Herbs

In Mains (Vegetarian) on December 9, 2009 at 10:43 PM

One thing I liked about my cooking class, was that I experimented with recipes and ingredients I likely would not have tackled alone.  I even cooked with celery (only after peeling it) but this post is all about red wine.  Before my mom showed me, I didn’t know that red wine was a magic ingredient in the succulent braised beef rolls (rouladen).  It wasn’t soon after that we made braised steak with red wine during cooking class, and I declared anything braised in red wine must be good! Little did I know that my least favourite dish from the class would be coq au vin, also cooked with red wine.  Our chef instructor explained that chicken doesn’t always pair well with red wine and coq au vin is supposed to be made with rooster, which therefore must taste better.

I have cooked with red wine once before, making a sinfully delicious mushroom bourguignon with spaetzle, and what I loved about the vegetarian dish is that the mushrooms didn’t need that much red wine for the braising. With only 1 cup of red wine for the mushroom bourguignon, the rest of the bottle was enjoyed by others at the dinner table. Whereas the more authentic boeuf bourguignon required the whole bottle to braise the meat.

This brought me to this recipe with kidney beans stewed in red wine with tomatoes (erm, tomato paste) and fresh herbs, adapted slightly from Cooking Books who adapted it from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. The simplicity of the dish appealed to me, with a list of fresh and healthy ingredients leading to a delicious stew of red beans. I had to wait for the weekend to be able to afford so much oven and stove time for the beans, though. It didn’t take much effort, but I needed to be around during those hours. It was a nice way to warm up my apartment with delicious smells and the subsequent beans tasted great. Served with a crusty bread, it was a filling meal. The leftovers weren’t as good, but not much lasted that long.

This is my submission to My Legume Love Affair, created by The Well-Seasoned Cook.

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Chocolate Orange Stars – Worth the trouble? You decide!

In Desserts on December 6, 2009 at 10:49 PM

Looking for the perfect year-end potluck offering? Nothing says “I need a holiday” more than more than these star-shaped cookies! I admit, these cookies took a bit more Martha Stewart than I had to give.  I made them over two days, refrigerating the dough after the first, and rolling out and baking on the second.  An extra set of hands went a long way as the rolling and baking happened on a Monday evening after work (i.e. prevented tears upon my realizing just how much dough the recipe actually produced).  Despite the fuss, these cuties were as tasty as they are pretty and well worth the trouble.

Tip: Keep unrolled dough in fridge between rolling, and keep cut out shapes in freezer before cutting out smaller shapes.  This recipe makes LOTS of cookies!

This recipe for Chocolate Orange Hearts came from the Complete Cookie Book by Elizabeth Wolf Cohen.
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Super Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Cranberries, Walnuts and Orange Zest

In Desserts on December 6, 2009 at 9:04 PM

As I wrap up the last week of my culinary arts I course at George Brown College, it is nice to think of what I have learned. I am definitely more nimble with my chopping skills, which was helped by my new Santoku knife. Obviously the right knife for the proper job makes it a lot easier. Anyways, I digress… I had never even heard of mirepoix, or ever made an herb sachet or knew how to “properly” peel ginger (or that it could be frozen, too!). I learned not to be scared of the burnt brown stuff that accumulates at the bottom of the pan, because after you deglaze it, that is where all the flavour comes from. But those are just technicalities, as what I took away most from the courses was the confidence to be creative in the kitchen. At least a bit more than before…  We actually didn’t do much baking, other than a quiche, but cooking is a more creative art. Baking (pastry specifically) is a bit more regimented but I tried my hand at being a bit more creative with these cookies, with a little help from my mom as she nudged me in the right direction.

We took the recipe for super soft pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies from Deelish Dish (who adapted them from Joy the Baker). We wanted something a bit healthier, not that we don’t love chocolate chips, but we subbed in dried cranberries for the chocolate, reduced the sugar and oil, and added in walnuts for crunch. The orange zest was added when we saw my lonely orange on my counter slowly weeping.  The flavours worked incredibly well together and wasn’t too sweet. The spices married well within the big, soft, moist cookies. They were more of a cross between a cake and cookie, but within a smaller, portable packet. I only got 16 cookies when I used the 1/4 cup scoop and made huge cookies.

I am submitting this to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Laurie from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska (round-up here) and to this month’s Cook-Eat-Delicious- Desserts for pumpkin.

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