Saturday, November 22, 2014

Beer, Mustard, and Cheddar Bread


This is probably not the best way to begin a post, but I was recently hit hard with Norovirus, a nasty stomach bug that put me out for a few days. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom and my smartest move on the whole weekend leaving the garbage can at my bedside. I even took a day off work, something I haven't done in two years. In my sleepy, feverish state, I tried to recall what I could have possibly eaten that could have caused such a violent reaction, only when I shared horror stories with my coworker did I realize I must have picked up the virus from work.


As I recovered in bed, lamenting over my sore back, I even thought of summoning up the energy to bake something sweet. That was wishful thinking. Maybe later this week when I'm feeling 110% better. Instead, I have this beautiful bread to share. It's got a load of heat that will linger in your mouth, so be sure to have some water nearby (I love spicy food, so this bread is right up my alley). It's messy to make and the beer isn't pronounced, but it's totally worth the fluffy, cheesy goodness. Now that my appetite has returned, I could go for another slice of this toasted with a slather of butter.



Recipe here!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rosemary Shortbread Bars with Dark Chocolate


I made these for my birthday and they turned out to be I suppose, a happy accident. I wanted to make two batches of brownies of the same recipe, one batch that used natural cocoa powder while the other used Dutch-processed cocoa powder. I’ve always used the latter but after reading Alice Medrich rhapsodize about natural cocoa powder I wanted to try it. Unfortunately, my mind was so focused on turning 27 and my quarter-life crisis (does that exist?) that I forgot to add eggs into the first batch of brownies. By the time I realized my mistake, the pan was already in the oven. FML. 



Anyway, here is the two layer shortbread and chocolate bar. The bottom is a crumbly rosemary shortbread, it hits all the right buttery notes and the herb isn’t overwhelming and resonates throughout the cookie. The chocolate layer on top turned out like a thick chocolate wafer. It’s barely sweet and compliments the shortbread nicely; the chocolate flavour was strong too, just enough to satisfy my chocolate craving. The chocolate layer tends to separate from the shortbread after I've cut and divided the pan, but its still delicious and everyone I gave these away to as gifts raved about them.

I still have about a cup of natural cocoa powder left over, I’m saving it to use in another chocolate worthy dessert. Any suggestions? Also, this reminds me of this Rosemary and Chocolate Olive Oil Cake and the delicious combination of chocolate and herbs.



Recipe here!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Baked Eggs in Stewed Tomatoes with Caramelized Leeks


I feel like a kid in a Disney store when I visit a gourmet food store. I browse up and down each aisle, touching everything that intrigues me, smelling the fresh fruits and vegetables, ogling over coconut ice cream donned in pretty packaging, imaging how it would feel running my dessert spoon over the smooth, white cream. I don't necessary buy much, but in the odd time that I do, I go home with a box of fancy tea or a chocolate bar that I haven't tried yet. 


A few weeks ago, I got a chance to check out Chef Mark McEwan's grocery store, McEwan at Shops on Don Mills. It was fantastic and I spent more than an hour there, I even texted my friend and food-lover, Lisa, in all-caps, "OMGTHIS PLACEISAMAZING!" I kept thinking of scenes from Top Chef Canada, when contestants would scramble around the store looking for ingredients, and I must admit, it was pretty cool to stand in the same spot as those talented chefs. There was a dizzying array of glistening meats, fish and fresh produce along the perimeter of the store, a selection of fine cheeses and charcuterie and ready-made sandwiches and hot meals to purchase for a quick meal. The towering display of chocolate and fruity tarts keep beckoning my name too. 


Along the back wall of the store was a variety of McEwan's Own food products made in-store including pizza sauce, pizzas, pies, and soups. I went home with jars of stewed tomatoes seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and bay leaves. My assignment was to feature McEwan's Own food products in a seasonal dish. I decided on these baked eggs, having made something similar years ago and really enjoying them (save for the part when I burnt my tongue). 

 
This dish is easy peasy and can be prepared in less than 30 minutes. You start by slowly cooking the leeks in butter, allowing it to soften until it smells like onion heaven. Butter your ramekins, pour in dollops of the stewed tomatoes, leaving some room to add more ingredients, throw in the leeks, crack an egg into the tomatoes. It takes about 15 minutes to bake the eggs and meanwhile, you can make the garlic Parmesan toasts, which is basically rubbing some raw garlic on thick, crusty bread, sprinkling fresh Parmesan cheese over it and then broiling it until the cheese melts and begins to bubble.

I love having bread that serves as both food and a vehicle to pick up thick chunky sauces or soups. The bread is buttery and salty, contrasting nicely with the sweet tomatoes. It's warm and comforting too, which is exactly what I need now that winter is just around the corner.


McEwan is located at 38 Karl Fraser Road Toronto, M3C 0H7. T: 416-444-6262.
Thanks to The McEwan Group for the fun grocery experience! 

Recipe here!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coconut Cake with Chocolate Cloud Frosting


What happens if you're not ready to turn 27? When you feel like your life isn't where you imagined it to be in your youth? I didn't have concrete 5 or 10 year goals, but in my head, I had hoped to make decent progress in life. But then again, what defines someone as successful? It's subjective. One person's success might not mean the same thing to someone else. But I can't help but compare myself to my peers. Some friends I've grown up with are now married, popping out babies, or devoted mothers, and/or own a home. I don't have any of those things. I don't even have a dog (something I hope to change next year--hey look, an attainable goal!). I know that those things don't define you and everyone's timeline is different, but how does that reflect about you?


I feel like I haven't traveled enough, I want to eat and drink my way through Italy, stuff my face with platters of fresh pasta made by nonnas with wrinkled hands and sip homemade limonello followed by pistachio gelato. I want to visit New Orleans and blues dance with a hot stranger on the street with a saxophonist crooning in the background. I haven't read enough books! I want to lie on the beach in Santorini and read food memoirs. 

I want to own my own house and paint the bathroom a brilliant shade of pale turquoise to remind me of the Caribbean ocean, hang up a ton of photos I've taken of my friends and family to show off to my friends and family. I want a bright and open kitchen with grayish white marble countertops and host dinner parties like I used to during my Montreal days. I want to have a golden retriever and call him Brinkley (named after Tom Hank's dog in You've Got Mail) and throw frisbees for him to catch and bring back to me. That's only a tiny glimpse of the many things I want to do. I feel like I'm running out of time. Is it just me? Is this what a quarter-life crisis feels like?


Anyway, I made this layer cake for one of my best friend's birthday. I made the cake layers and froze it for a week since I knew there wouldn't be time to make it before her party. I whipped up the frosting which was definitely THE most decadent, buttery, and creamy frosting I've ever made. Other frostings I've made lean towards the sugary side or have sandier texture and who don't the words "Cloud Frosting" just beckon your name? The frosting has a high butter to sugar ratio which makes it uber smooth. I'd prefer a stronger chocolate flavour, but that didn't stop the compliments from flowing at the party. 

The cake is absolutely amaZING. It's moist and the flavour marries well with the frosting, there's just enough shredded coconut to give it some nibbly texture too. I put plenty of kosher salt in the frosting too because I can't resist that sweet and salty combination. There were no leftovers which made us sad, but I suppose it goes to show just how delicious it was. 

Recipe here!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Raspberry Crumble Tart with Speculoos


Yesterday it was 41⁰C. 41!!  It was sweltering hot and I loved it but then it made me absolutely dread winter. Sorry I couldn't help it, I had to bring up that horrid word. I'm not excited at all for my thick puffy coat, or having to scrape ice off my car, or those awful bitterly cold gusts of wind numbing my face. I'm only mildly excited to make butternut squash soup and wear cozy sweaters and leather boots. Please please please weather-people, make winter short and bearable this year. 



In an ode to summer, I made this tart. The recipe caught my eye right away, it seemed easy enough, no pastry dough required, the tart layer is the same as the crumble topping. I wanted to bake using summer fruits before they all disappear. I also tweaked the recipe just slightly to make it my own: I browned the butter before mixing it into the cookie base and spread a layer of Speculoos to compliment the tart base before adding the raspberries on top (I bet Nutella would be a delicious substitute/addition too). 


The tart comes together easily, the hardest part for me was evenly pressing the cookie base to the tart pan and ensuring the sides also had a good layer of dough. This takes a certain level of patience that I don't normally have, but I kept telling myself I wanted to make it look good, so I kept pressing on (pun intended).


The tart is a beautiful tart to look at and to eat. The browned butter really sings in the tart base, giving the whole thing a lovely caramelized flavour. The tart also has sandy texture from a mixture of brown and white sugars, reminiscent of a raw shortbread cookie. After I finished wolfing down my first slice of tart, I carefully cut pieces from the remaining tart sides to nibble on it...and then I kept picking at the crumble topping for a solid 5 minutes before I shamefully decided to stop. The cookie base was the perfect vehicle for the sweet raspberries. I'd reuse the tart base for another recipe, like a chocolate ganache or a lemon curd filling.


Also, as the recipe warned that this is best eaten within the first couple of hours after it's done. The tart bottom soaks up the raspberry juices, making it soggy. I ate it the next day, it wasn't so bad and tastes even better with some thick Greek yogurt. Mmm...summer!



Recipe here!

Monday, September 1, 2014

White Chocolate Rice Krispies Treats with Peanuts


I drafted another post a while ago but couldn't bring myself to hit publish. I broke up with my boyfriend in a while ago and the things I had written were still too raw and I wasn't ready to share them. I'm constantly trying to busy myself, the evenings are filled with tennis dates or hours at the gym, weekends are spent with mom and friends, and recently, I ate and drank my way through Montreal, coming home with Fairmount bagels stuffed into my luggage, permeating my clothes with their sweet yeasty fragrance.

Finally, more than a month later, I've found peace and forgiveness. I was staring at old pictures I took of Jacques and felt strong enough to contemplate his kind brown eyes, his crow's feet, that smile that always made me feel safe, his deep chuckle that I could never get sick of. Some days I miss him terribly.




We weren't engaged but had plans to get married in a few years, we were that couple. We had started a list of potential wedding songs, bookmarked pictures of our dream home, daydreamed taking time off work and travelling together. It's difficult to go from that level of intimacy to constant fighting, crying, more fighting, and finally, breaking up. There were a few fleeting moments were I felt certain that what we were going through was just a rough patch, something all couples go through, but our unresolved differences were too significant to ignore. I've never been good at talking about my feelings and I recognize my fault for not asking what I wanted and needed from our relationship sooner. At least I'm learning from my mistakes and trying to be a better partner in my future relationships. I guess that's important right?



Heartbreak aside, let's talk about rice krispies. I've had a jumbo box of the snap, crackle and pop sitting on my kitchen counter for at least half a year (surprisingly not stale yet!) and was browsing through David Lebovitz's site when I came upon this recipe. It's super easy and can quickly satisfy any sugar craving. 

The white chocolate adds sweetness and sophistication to the treats, the peanuts add a nutty crunch and the salt counters the sugar just right. I ate two large squares in quick succession while watching Blue Bloods with mom and sneaked a few bites for breakfast the next morning. I brought these to work and they were gone by the end of the day. They are a sure crowd-pleaser.


Recipe here!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Strawberry Pop Tarts with Fresita Icing


I grew up mostly in Shanghai, where imported food from the States back then was considered in my mind, a treasured thing. My family rarely shopped at the Supercity Market where a majority of their products were imported, they preferred to go to the local supermarket to buy food instead. If I brought lunch to school, I cringed at my leftovers from the night before (rice, rice, meat, rice, veg, rice, rice—what a bore and yet I still eat the same lunches these days). I envied my classmates that ate pastrami sandwiches and sipped on juice boxes covered with colourful animal cartoons. The best part of lunch time though was near the end, when they shared their treats. Sometimes it was pop tarts, or Rice Krispie treats, or Fruit-by-the-Foot, or my personal favourite, Fruit Gushers.

It was important to sit within arms length to these friends so I could get the first piece. They were always so generous, passing out their treat as if their house was made of candy. As we stuck out our tongues to compare whose mouth had undergone the most serious colour transformation caused by the Fruit-by-the-Foot,  I always wondered in awe who in their right mind would give away these sweets? I’d keep it all to myself. 




Sometime in middle school, I happened to get my hands on my first box of pop tarts. I had studied the bright blue box from side to side and top to bottom, reading the ingredients, admiring the logo, I was so amused at the packaging as if it were a shiny new toy. I tore open the top flap and grabbed a pop tart, wrapped in its thin silver package, ripped the silvery wrapper to reveal the most beautiful pop tart. I licked the chocolate glaze, savored that strange powdery chocolate flavour and inside the pastry was a pudding-like chocolate filling. It was freaking awesome. 


I haven't had pop tarts again since after moving back to Canada for school, the baker in me scoffs at buying precooked pastries when I can make them at home. See? I can make little tarts too! They're not quite picture-perfect, since I prefer the ‘rustic’ look and didn’t spend the time to meticulously measure out the pastry dough to ensure each rectangle was the exact size, but don't judge a book pop tart by its cover, they are heavenly. 

The combination of sticky jam with shortbread-like pastry is addictive, they are especially good warm from the oven. Also, the pastry really does shine here. It’s buttery, flaky, and surprising easy to make (which is a big deal compared to my many horrid experiences making pastry dough from scratch). 


I used Fresita wine in the icing on these pop tarts too. The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel and is mixed with fresh strawberries. The sparkling wine is a little dry but has a strong fruit flavour to give just enough sweetness. 

Fresita is refreshing on its own and tastes amazing chilled, I sipped on few glasses while sunbathing on the patio. The wine also goes well with desserts and is delicious with these strawberry pop tarts. I love that I can hold my Fresita in one hand and a pop tart in the other, no plate required. I would imagine the Fresita would be a good base for making sangria, You can find Fresita at the LCBO. 


Recipe here!