Cook the Book Fridays – Eggplant Caviar

Eggplant Caviar

The sky this morning was an poisonous shade of orange and all day there has been a visible haze of smoke. The air has a heaviness that I haven’t felt since I was in Mexico City and I’ve been limiting my dog walks to a block or so for days.

It’s better here than through much of the province – Kamloops scored a horrifying 49 on the Air Quality Health Index and Clinton’s Mayor warned that a wildfire may threaten the hydro station that fuels much of MetroVancouver and the Island. The city has emptied out for the long weekend, save for those celebrating Pride Weekend and the Powell Street Festival, with many people in search of clearer air.

But, I’m supposed to be writing about something much more pleasantly smoky. [Aside: When did smokey become an old-fashioned spelling?] I charred some eggplants on the grill this evening, then finished them in the oven. I scooped out the pulp and whirred it in the food processor with lemon, garlic, smoked paprika, and basil. Then, I served it with crackers and toasted French bread.

It’s the kind of dip that I enjoy taking on a bike ride or a hike as much as I do serving it as part of a buffet. I whirred it a little too long to live up to its name, but the flavour is still terrific. It’s salty, earthy, herbacious, and spicy. It would have been lovely as part of an al fresco meal, under normal circumstances, but tonight it took a little bit of the sting out of staying indoors.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Cook the Book Fridays – Hummus

Hummus garnished with dukkah, smoked paprika, and olive oil

I find that it’s in warmer weather than my refrigerator fills with dips, sauces, and condiments. In colder months, it’s filled with soups and stews, one pot meals that need no additional seasoning, save for a quick gremolata or a dusting of seasoned breadcrumbs. I might find myself thinking I should whip up some romesco or chimichurri, but I rarely do.

This seasonal shift might be because mix-and-match buffets are perfect for outdoor eating; or that tartines showcasing summer produce need just a swipe of something flavourful to complete them; or that hot weather saps my will to cook and suppresses my appetite, so it’s best to fill the fridge with quick and tempting food. It’s probably the last one, if I’m being honest. The others are simply collateral benefits.

Irises

In any case, June is a great time to perfect your house hummus recipe, before it gets too hot and in time for all those picnics you’re going to organize in July and August. This hummus is a great place to start. There aren’t any flavourings incorporated into the hummus itself, save for lemon, garlic and tahini, making it a blank canvas for whatever you choose to garnish it with. I used dukkah and smoked paprika, as suggested, along with a drizzle of olive oil and it went nicely with the rye crackers I had on hand.

I made a full batch, which is at least enough for the weekend. I think I might make some flat breads tomorrow and fill them with hummus and fresh vegetables, for a bit of Eighties nostalgia and some easy weekend eating.

Hummus

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Cook the Book Fridays – Multigrain Bread

Multigrain Bread

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a month since I shared a meal with my Cook the Book Fridays friends. I’ve missed checking in on everyone’s blog and telling everyone else about another one of My Paris Kitchen‘s terrific recipes.

This week, I couldn’t miss out. Baking bread is one of my favourite meditative occupations and it’s one I don’t do often enough. This recipe might help me with that – here’s a bulleted list to prove it:

  • The only preparation needed is a starter that’s mixed the night before and left to bubble away in a warmish place (which is easier now that the weather is finally warming up).
  • It’s kneaded in the stand mixer, but the dough isn’t taxing on my KitchenAid’s motor.
  • It uses items I regularly stock, like bread flour and a variety of seeds, requiring only one addition to my pantry – a $3.00 bag of whole wheat pastry flour.
  • It’s a great excuse to break out my Dutch oven, which gives it a perfectly chewy, crisp crust.
  • The crumb is tender and almost uniform, making this a candidate for all-time favourite sandwich bread.
  • It’s much more flavourful than any grocery store multigrain and it’s not that far removed from a good bakery loaf.
  • It’s easily adaptable to whatever add-ins your pantry can provide.

If that hasn’t convinced you to try this bread, perhaps the recipe itself might. You can find it over on Fine Cooking. It’s a perfect weekend bread. You only have to attend to it for a few minutes at a time, over the course of a morning or afternoon, while you get on with chores, cooking, or crosswords. (Or the much more exciting things you may be getting up to on Saturday – I choose comfort and alliteration, for this weekend at least.)

Multigrain Bread, from starter to finish.

I didn’t have any issues making the bread, save for needing to bake it about ten minutes longer than the recipe called for. Some of the other cooks in our group needed to adjust the temperature, timing, or hydration a little for their loaves. I took Betsy‘s advice and added the seeds partway through the initial knead, wrapping a kitchen towel around my stand mixer to avoid flying flax seeds.

Multigrain Bread, full of seeds

The only other problem I had was patience. I cut into it before it was cool, slightly munching the edge of the cut loaf, as you can see in the photo above. The good news is that when it was truly cool, it cut like a dream. And I don’t regret my impatience, because there are few pleasures like warm, fresh bread slathered with butter. It’s certainly worth one minorly crumpled crust.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Cook the Book Fridays – Green Beans with Snail Butter

Green Beans with Snail Butter

Some of my earliest restaurant memories involve escargots. My parents wanted their children to be comfortable in establishments ranging from hamburger joints to fine dining rooms, and they also wanted us to be willing to try anything on the menu. It helped that escargots are a favourite of my mother’s, so we were exposed to them early and often. It helped, even more, that they were drowned in delicious, garlicky, lemony butter. You haven’t lived until you’ve had that butter running down your chin. (You weren’t raised by my parents if that happened more than once.)

These days, I appreciate a version that doesn’t involve the fuss of making escargots at home, appeals to vegetarians, and can even be veganized in a pinch. Green beans are chameleons in the kitchen and take to lashings of lemony garlic butter beautifully. In this recipe, they’re steamed before being finished in the pan, but they could just as easily be blanched, if that works better for you.

All the minced garlic!

I was tempted to pick up a baguette to soak up the butter, but I decided to add it to some red sauce, instead. It’s the time of year when winter pantry staples start to feel very tired. Adding this butter gave the sauce a richness and freshness of flavour that made me forget that fresh tomatoes are still months away.

Lemony garlic butter on green beans.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Cook the Book Fridays – Wheat Berry Salad

Wheat Berry Salad

The full title of this recipe is Wheat Berry Salad with Radicchio, Root Vegetables, and Pomegranate and it’s really hard to single out a component that’s the star of the show in this salad. They all work together so beautifully and chase away any end-of-winter ennui that root vegetables may hold at this time of year. I especially loved the dressing of olive oil, lemon, Dijon mustard, and pomegranate molasses. This salad is going to fuel me for a few days.

It was a good recipe to jump back into the group with, after a short post-Christmas blog break. I so appreciate connecting with the other bloggers in this group, something that I’ve been particularly aware of this week.

Many of us cooked through Around My French Table together and we heard the sad news that one of our friends from that project has passed away. Kathy of Bakeaway with Me would have made a gorgeous version of this salad and showed it off with her beautiful photography. She’ll be missed, as a kind and generous cornerstone of our Dorista community; as a talented blogger, recipe developer, and photographer; and of course, as a mother, grandmother, and friend. My thoughts are with her family and community.

Wheat Berry Salad

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Cottage Cooking Club – February 2017

River Cottage Everyday & Love Your Leftovers

The Cottage Cooking Club is back, for a six-month journey through two more River Cottage cookbooks, River Cottage Everyday and River Cottage: Love Your Leftovers. Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness is taking a more free-wheeling approach to this iteration of the club, asking members to choose whichever recipes strike their fancy and post about them on the 28th of each month.

River Cottage Veg is one of my go to cookbooks for simple weeknight eating, so I was happy to add River Cottage Everyday to my collection. And I fell in love with Love Your Leftovers when I reviewed it just before the holidays.

I hope to cook a little more from both books over the next few months, but for this month, I’m starting with a snack that is cheaper and better for you than its supermarket counterparts.

Honey and Peanut Butter Booster Bars

Honey and Peanut Butter Booster Bars

I couldn’t wait until these were cooled completely to cut a couple of tester squares. If I’d waited until they were completely cool, they would have had straighter edges, but it was worth it. These bars are a perfect snack, warm or cold. They have a fair amount of sugar and butter in them, but they’re also full of dried fruit and seeds. I chose dried cranberries, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Along with the chunky peanut butter and oats, I’d say they make these bars a healthy choice.

They’re naturally gluten-free (as long as you use gluten-free safe oats) and they’d be easy to make vegan, with golden syrup in place of honey and a healthy-ish margarine standing in for the butter.

I love this kind of recipe, because the results can be as varied as the contents of your pantry and you can customize them as much as you like. I’ve found this to be a hallmark of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes, one of the many things that brings me back to his cookbooks so frequently. I’m sure I’ll find a host of new favourites while working through this round of the club.

You can find the rest of the group’s posts, here. I encourage you to check them out – you’ll meet some wonderful bloggers while creating some wonderful meals.

Cook the Book Fridays – Fresh Herb Omelette

Vancouver's "Snowpocalype" was pretty at times.

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 brings plenty of good things, though it’s sure to be a challenging year, as well. My December was hectic and celebratory and my blog schedule suffered as a result. I don’t regret it at all, but I did miss keeping up with my friends at Cook the Book Fridays. So, I’m catching up on most of the dishes I missed in December, along with posting about our very first selection of 2017.

Fresh Herb Omelette

Fresh Herb Omelette

After all the complicated dishes, rich holiday favourites and baking, baking, baking, a simple omelette was a wonderful way to usher in a new year of cooking together. I’ve often skimped on butter when making omelettes, but faithfully using the quantity specified in this recipe gave this omelette the kind of crust and soft, fluffy interior I’m only used to at restaurants. No more skimping on butter for me.

Pissaladière

Pissaladière

I first made Pissaladière when I was cooking through Around My French Table with French Fridays with Dorie, way back in 2011. It’s a dish I don’t revisit often enough, so I was glad to have a reminder of how much I like this onion, anchovy, and olive tart. I’m not sure I can choose between the two versions. I like them both, though it is convenient that David’s dough doesn’t require an egg – with the number of eggs I ran through during holiday baking, that was probably more important than it would be in the summertime.

This is something I like to make for company, but I was on my own for it this time around. I didn’t “minify” it, though. Instead, I made the full recipe, pulling it out when it was fully baked, but not as browned as I like it. I cut it into squares, put one back in the oven to brown, and put the rest into the fridge in a covered container, once they’d cooled. That gave me several days’ worth of this delicious treat, each slice of which was just as good as the first, once it got its second round in the oven.

Grated Carrot Salad

Grated Carrot Salad

This is another dish that was also tackled by the French Fridays crew when I was cooking through Around My French Table, but this version skips the raisins and nuts, focusing on carrot, herbs, and a lemon-mustard dressing. I’m all in favour of that. Simple salads that go with almost anything else you’re serving aren’t just the stuff of January resolutions – they’re year-round necessities that make meals shine.

I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone else’s posts from December and I’m also looking forward to what’s in store on the blog in the next few weeks. There will be a chocolate tasting to tell you about and a risotto recipe or two to share. I’ll be updating you on the progress of my spider plant and making good on my intention to share more about community this year. In these times, I think it’s good to celebrate the ways in which we come together, don’t you?

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Holiday Cookbook Reviews – Scratch

tomato-chickpea-and-rice-soup

I received a review copy of Scratch from Raincoast Books. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

My introduction to the Rodale family came through the stack of Organic Gardening magazines beside my Dad’s favourite chair. What I learned from them has guided the way I eat and shop, and the choices I make in my backyard gardening experiments.

So, I was curious to see what Rodale Inc. CEO Maria Rodale‘s approach to food would be in her new cookbook, Scratch.

I was happy to discover that Rodale’s food philosophy is much like my own, emphasizing a variety of fresh, seasonal foods in preparations that are weeknight easy and full of flavour. On the weekends, I may take the time to learn new techniques, prepare an elaborate meal, or take on a multi-day baking project, but for the rest of the week I want food that is as simple to prepare as it is tempting to eat. What I don’t want are “15 minute meals” that rely on processed food or skimp on taste.

It’s that middle ground that Maria Rodale is passionate about sharing. Her cookbook is like a peek into her kitchen’s handwritten recipe books and card files. These are the recipes that her kids ask for, or have developed themselves. They’re recipes collected from extended family, memorable restaurant meals, travel, and house guests. They’re the recipes that add up to an everyday life that’s full of meals made from scratch.

homemade-crackers

She’s pared down her recipes to the essentials, both in ingredient and technique, to make them accessible to new cooks and attractive to busy ones. From the sampling I’ve done so far, this method hasn’t sacrificed flavour or healthy ingredients. Her homemade cracker recipe is a perfect example of this – finding only complicated, time-consuming recipes online, she developed her own version that captured the taste and crunch she wanted, simply and quickly. It’s a basic recipe that’s good just as it is, or can be used as a canvas for any flavour you crave. I took one of Rodale’s variation suggestions and sprinkled za’atar on mine. They’ll be great in soup, but I’m also enjoying snacking on them right out of the tin I’ve stored them in.

Her food is rooted in her Midwestern upbringing, but it’s also firmly planted in the 21st Century. There are classic American recipes like glazed ham or chicken noodle soup, alongside recipes that make use of today’s global palette of ingredients, like Vietnamese rice paper rolls or quinoa kale, and sunflower seed salad. The salad was the first recipe I tried when the book arrived and it’s perfect for lunchboxes or a buffet side dish.

quinoa-kale-and-sunflower-seed-salad

It’s also one of the recipes in the book that accommodates gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian eaters, in a book that doesn’t exclusively cater to either. That’s another aspect of this cookbook that reflects the way I cook – I’m a gluten-loving omnivore, but many of the people in my life eat differently than I do and I’ve grown accustomed to cooking for a variety of food needs. Scratch is full of recipes that easily accommodate these diets, without resort to specialty ingredients or complicated substitutions.

Another recipe that is naturally vegan and gluten-free is Rodale’s Tomato, Chickpea, and Rice Soup, which the publishers have been kind enough to allow me to share with you.

TOMATO, CHICKPEA, AND RICE SOUP

My yoga teacher, Holly, taught me how to make this soup, and it’s delicious. She based it on a Marcella Hazan recipe she found online, but of course we modified and simplified it a bit. We made it on a cold winter’s day, and it was the most heartwarming, soul-satisfying soup you can imagine. Don’t worry about the amount of oil, it gives the soup a lovely richness. Feel free to add more stock if you prefer a thinner soup.

Serves 4 to 6

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 can (14 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
  • Leaves from a few sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 cans (14 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock, store-bought or homemade (page 111)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • Grated Romano cheese, for serving
  1. In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until golden.
  2. Carefully add the tomatoes and lightly mash them with a potato masher to break them down a little. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Add the rosemary and chickpeas, increase the heat to medium, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the stock, the pepper flakes (if using), and salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Ladle two-thirds of the soup, including the garlic, into a blender and process until smooth.*
  5. Return the puree to the pan with the remaining 3 cups stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Divide among bowls and pass grated Romano at the table.
    * This step is totally optional, but results in a lovely thick, smooth soup.

There aren’t very many ingredients in this soup, but it’s full of flavour. Simmering the tomatoes in garlic-infused olive oil brings back a bit of summer to them and partially pureeing the soup makes it as silky as though it were made with cream. I garnished mine with garlicky breadcrumbs, as I had them on hand, but it would have been just as delicious without any garnish at all. That said, it would be fantastic with the grated Romano called for in the recipe, too.

This recipe is easy enough for a beginner, but appealing to experienced cooks – so many of us would reach for short grain rice when making soup, but Arborio rice makes it so much richer and more filling. There are other recipes that are geared toward novices, like Rodale’s simple grilled cheese, but I keep dipping into this book for gems like her celery with brown butter and toasted almonds. It helped me to happily eat down my overabundance of celery this fall.

Scratch is the perfect cookbook to give to a young adult striking out on their own or even a teenager who wants to learn their way around the kitchen. But it’s also a lifesaver for busy working adults who are disenchanted with recipes that promise speed, while sacrificing quality and flavour. And for those of us who want to eat healthy whole foods, but are uninterested in the latest food fads and unafraid of a little bit of everything in moderation, this book is on point.

Rodale’s go to cookbook was the Joy of Cooking and she’s produced a contemporary book in the same spirit – one that can guide you from novice to experienced home cook, while remaining a resource for years to come.

Scratch by Maria Rodale

Raincoast Books has been generous enough to offer a copy of Scratch to one Canadian reader. You can find the giveaway here and enter until December 22nd: Win a copy of Scratch*

Gift Giver’s Guide: For the weeknight chef, the family feeder, the kitchen novice, and the organic eater.

Come back next week for a review of a book that will turn you into a confident crafter of all things baked.

*This giveaway is open to residents of Canada. You must have a Canadian mailing address. The winner will be required to answer the following skill testing question: 15 X 12 =_____ This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. We hereby release Facebook of any liability. Winner(s) will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. Entrants must provide a valid email address where they can be reached. Each of the winners must respond to the email announcing their win within 48 hours, or another winner will be chosen. No purchase of any product is required. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email!

You can find links to the rest of my Holiday Cookbook Review Series giveaways here. They’re all open until December 22nd.

Cook the Book Fridays – Butternut Squash Crumble


Holiday dinner season starts this weekend in Canada, just in time for the markets to start filling with this year’s autumn harvest. Growing up, we always had yams or squash on our holiday table, but they were never the storied candied yams with marshmallows that I heard about from other families. My mother preferred to roast them and mash them with just enough butter, brown sugar, and nutmeg to enhance their natural flavour. It’s my favourite way to eat them still.

So, I looked at this week’s recipe carefully, worried that it skewed to the dessert on the dinner table side of things. But, this recipe makes the most of butternut squash’s savoury affinities, while using its sweetness to balance the dish. The crisp is a mixture of bread crumbs, Parmesan, and polenta, seasoned with sage and held together by butter and egg. Underneath, the squash is infused with homemade chicken stock and flavoured with thyme and shallots.

As much as I like sweet crumbles, with almost any sort of fruit, I’m excited to have met its savoury cousin. Now that I’ve given it a test-run, it can graduate to prettier baking dishs and shine on holiday tables this year, and I suspect, for years to come.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Cook the Book Fridays – Gazpacho with Herbed Goat Cheese Toasts

Gazpacho

The way I’ve been eating lately feels like summer’s last hurrah. I picked the last of the beans from my garden, leaving a few to dry on the vine for seed. Here and there, there are rogue zucchini and cucumbers left lurking in the garden, and I’m just about ready to make green tomato chutney.

Happily, I’ve still got a big bowl of ripe tomatoes on the counter, so my summer harvest isn’t quite spent. Most of them are destined for roasting, if they don’t get eaten out of hand first. Some more were set aside for this week’s Cook the Book Fridays selection, gazpacho. David describes it as an “icy-cold liquid salad” and it’s a perfect description. It also showcases the late summer flavours of tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper in a way that makes me long for summer to begin all over again.

I skipped the traditional slice of bread that’s used to thicken the soup, for a gluten-free version, and I don’t think the consistency suffered that much. My breadless gazpacho is in good company, including
Martha Rose Shulman
‘s version in the New York Times. I’ll make David’s version as written when I’m serving gluten-friendly eaters, but it’s nice to know it works so well for gluten-free eaters, too.

Rosemary-Oregano Goat Cheese Toasts

I served the soup in shot glasses, for a grazing Friday night supper. There was hummus and gluten-free crackers for M. Vegan. For me, the croutons for the soup became tartines, instead, slathered with goat cheese mixed with rosemary and oregano from my garden. And we both worked our way through a plateful of crudités.

I’m glad that squash and chanterelles are starting to appear, to assuage the pain of summer’s disappearance, otherwise, this meal would have put me into a winter’s-long funk. Even so, I’m glad there’s some soup left for tomorrow. I’m going to savour the last few tastes of summer for as long as possible.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.