In the past month, in the midst of my job search, I went on a few mini trips for the purpose of pleasure and to visit friends and family (previously mentioned here). It had been many years since I’d seen my sister and even longer since I’d been on the State side of the Pacific, what with the whole living in Asia thing. In fact, the last time I’d been to the west coast was for my sissy’s wedding to her fabulous wife 5 years ago. It was a lovely trip full of fish tacos, kitties and pretty nature.
While wandering, I took a few (hundred) photos of those pretty natural things. Here are some of my favorites:
Beets are also colourful. And flavourful.
This recipe has converted a few beet haters I know. Beets pair astonishingly well with dill, which has been a traditional gastronomic practice in many European cuisines in various forms. Borscht in Eastern Europe and salads in Italy. With the aid of lemon and Dijon, this salad is an exemplary archetype of freshness. The walnuts add texture and creaminess. Do make. Do eat. Do enjoy.
Tangy Dill Walnut Beet Salad
3 large beets, peeled and cut into bite sized cubes
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup ( ½ a bunch) of chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp of diced red onion
2 tbsp of dijon mustard
1 ½ -2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 lemons, juiced
2 tbsp tamari
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp walnuts, crushed (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Place the peeled cubes of beets in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 25-30 minutes. To check if they’re fully cooked, poke a large piece with a fork. Like a potato, it should be soft when done. Do not overcook, or you’ll have beet mash.
Drain and rinse the beets in a colander and place in a large bowl when fully drained.
Add all other ingredients and mix well.
Replace mayonnaise with goat’s cheese for a saltier, less emulsified creaminess.
Mum and I went for a walk in the woods last week in the fresh snow. A friend had cleared a new path this past summer that borders the unfriendly edges of our property and we wanted to explore the old ruins found there. When I say unfriendly, I’m alluding to the gun toting, 4 wheeling neighbors who once threatened my mum when she approached their home to get directions. How charming.
I can see that my New Year’s resolution of being less sarcastic will be a challenge. (Happy 2013, by the way!)
Some expert of some relevant subject came to see these ruins and speculated that they might have been built and used by the Mohicans as a trading post long ago. The ruins consisted of a large stone marker and 3-walled structure of some sort, where people would meet and/or leave goods for each other. It’s pretty cool to find this sort of thing in ones own (extended) backyard. It can be easy to forget the possibilities of the past in just about any place (except for maybe Surtsey Island), and especially in an area as quiet (quiet for me, anyway) as the Berkshires. It is unknown whether or not these are actually Mohican ruins, but it is nice to think of that possibility. I like feeling the rich history of a place, whether it’s geological or human. Time has spread its wings over everything.
One of the most satisfying winter comfort foods are sweet potatoes. Warm, earthy, orange and versatile. They add flavour and heart to any meal.
Though many cooks like to take the natural sweetness found in sweet potatoes to an even sweeter level (sweet potato pie, candied yams, sweet potato pancakes, etc) I prefer to balance the sweetness by adding salty and savory ingredients. A quick look at my brand new Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg lists a few great ideas, like: garlic, duck, dill, cilantro, cumin, prosciutto, sage, Dijon, chives and more. Mmm.
If you’re not that comfortable working and experimenting with new sweet potato recipes, try these fries as a way to practice. You are guaranteed delicious results.
Cumin Rosemary and Garlic Sweet Potato Fries
3 medium-large sweet potatoes
3 crushed and minced cloves of garlic
1 ½-2 tbsp of cumin powder
2 tsp of fresh or dried rosemary leaves
1 tsp salt and pepper
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
Preheat oven to 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.
Peel your sweet potatoes (or leave the skin on and just cut off the ugly bits like I do- when they are roasted the skin becomes soft and yummy. It is matter of taste. Just make sure you wash them well). Using a large knife, cut the sweet spuds into ½ inch slices. Then cut them into long fries.
Place them into a large bowl with all the other ingredients and mix until the oil and spices are evenly coating the fries.
Place the fries onto (a) baking sheet(s). Be sure to give them plenty of space. If they are too crowded, they won’t roast as well and will take much longer. Also, be sure to add any oil and spices at the bottom of the mixing bowl for extra flavour.
Place in oven and roast for about 45 minutes. Check them every 10-15 minutes to stir and turn them. This will prevent burning on one side and ensure even cooking.
Remove from heat when nicely browned and your kitchen is filled a warm, hearty smell.
I’m slightly concerned about my post titles being a bit too long. I can admit that they’re all a mouth full… and somehow, they manage to keep growing. To me, this isn’t exactly a problem as I think naming a dish according to the ingredients it contains gives my readers a clear idea of what the post (and recipe) is about. I like to list the ingredients I feel are important to each dish, but since my recipe interests include things like flavour pairing and molecular gastronomy, I tend to think ALL of the ingredients are important. Woops. Predicament.
It’s also due to my own personal inability (or laziness) to come up with a catchy title. It’s clearly too challenging for me to plan a dish, make it, photograph it, write about it AND create a catchy title. That’s just taking it too far. Anyway, I personally like to see literal titles. Let the food speak for itself. Most people can look at the ingredients (if they’re relatively familiar with them) in a recipe and get a sense of whether or not they’ll like it. Right? The names and imagined flavours swirl around in your mind, forcing the idea of the dish into your mouth. I appreciate the honesty of a literal title… but again, there’s the whole length issue. What do you think? Let me know what sort of title catches your eye.
OK, so it turns out that this recipe is ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous in the best way. Nathan and Alex came to visit me some time ago. Just as passionate lovers never leave the bedroom, my foodie friends and I never left the kitchen over the three days they were around. Fevered moments of flavour creativity (some might say delirium) and collaboration were plentiful and virtuous food was abundant. The guys brought with them a gorgeous array of fresh farmer’s market produce. Most important of this haul was bacon. Locally butchered, farm fresh strips of fatty delight. It created a revolution in my home and became part of almost every meal.
While we played around with my molecular gastronomy kits, futzing with spheres and such, Nathan remembered once again that we had bacon. How he could’ve forgotten, I’m not sure. I certainly hadn’t stopped thinking about it. Luckily, he took that thought one step further and remembered the acorn squash he’d brought. It came to everyone’s attention that wrapping bacon around grilled acorn squash would be painfully good. I’m still in pain now. Oy vay.
First, we blanched our cut slices of squash in boiling water for 3 minutes (only 4 at a time so the water doesn’t cool).
Next, we grilled those beauties on a stove-top grill (pan frying is totally acceptable). Luckily, there was some bacon fat left on the grill which added extra flavour to the squash.
Now that our squash had those beautiful grill marks, we wrapped them (so hard) in bacon and baked them. Sadly, I must note that we had run out of bacon by that point, so not every piece of squash was wrapped.
I showed the boys how to make molecular balsamic caviar, which happily features in this dish.
Maple spheres are also featured. And just look at that little guy! Beautiful, isn’t it?
Of all the maple spheres we made (about 8) this one was the only sphere presentable enough for a photo. When making spheres, it is important that your ingredients have a certain level of calcium in them for the thin film to form properly. Apparently, maple syrup is lacking in the calcium department and the film did not form well. They kept sticking and breaking when I tried to move them. In the hopes of getting one or two out of it, I left some in the sodium alginate bath for a long time (about 15 minutes), which paid off. If I were to try making them again, I’d add some yogurt to the mixture to avoid the same problem.
Bacon Wrapped Acorn Squash with Balsamic Caviar and Maple Sphere
1 acorn squash- cleaned of seeds (with or without peel) and divided into 8-10 pieces
Strip bacon- lots
Balsamic caviar (video instructions below)
Maple sphere (video instructions below)
Preheat your oven to 350 °F/ 180 °C/ Gas mark 4.
Boil a large pot of water. Place 3-4 pieces of squash in the water. Blanch them for 3 minutes then remove them from heat. Repeat until all pieces are blanched.
Grill or pan fry the squash on high heat until the surfaces are beautifully brown.
Place bacon wrapped squash in a casserole pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Last week, I celebrated my 33 and a third birthday. 33.33.I know it isn’t commonplace to celebrate a fraction of one’s birthday, but turning exactly one third of a century was too good to pass up without festivities. An old roommate and friend of mine from Montreal invited me to her 33 1/3rd birthday some years ago. It really struck me as a perfect event to celebrate; after all, three is a magic number.
Three. Past, present and future. Spirit, mind and body. Mother, father and child. Beginning, middle and end. The Three Furies, the rule of three, triangles, etc. 3 or 33 has appeared as important numbers in history, science, astronomy, sports, spirituality, nature, math and even geography. It symbolizes balance, clarity and wholeness. Threeness had overwhelmingly sold itself to me as something awesome. I was determined to do something great when I hit the big 33.33 and since my actual 33rd birthday was kind of a non-event, it was even more reason to party.
So, I did. My real birthday is on July 12th. I added a third of a year (4 months) to find that the precise date of my 33 1/3rd birthday was November 12th, 2012. In lieu of all the threeness, I decided that the theme of the party would be: (surprise!) 3’s! Here’s what I did:
Invite: I thought a party with a 3 theme could possibly be confusing and overwhelming for some of my guests, so I outlined the requests of the evening very simply in the hopes that my guests would interpret the theme in their own way. I asked everyone to dress up and bring food with 3 in mind. I told them that this was a very loose idea and could be interpreted in any way they like. It could be as simple as wearing three colours and bringing a 3-bean salad. I encouraged their creative ideas and humour to lead them more than what they thought I was expecting. It was all about fun.
Note: I wanted to celebrate on the exact date, which landed on a Monday. I asked my guests if they could manage coming on Monday or if they preferred Sunday. I tallied the votes before making the decision. Luckily, it worked out to be Monday. The official start time was 3:33pm, but I told everyone to come later.
Ideas: I encouraged my guests with a few ideas to pique their interest. Actually, I really just googled “things in threes” or “common threes” and loads of lists came up such as:
3 minute egg 3 Stooges 3 Cheers 3 Musketeers 3 piece suit 3 dimensional 3 ring notebook Small, medium and large On your mark, get set, go Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil Etc…
The list was pretty long. But effective!
Another clever costume: Third eye
Some of the dishes we ended up with were Shepard’s pie (3 layers), dip (also 3 layers), 3 different snacks, tri coloured soup, multi layered cocktails (details on those to come) and multi alcohol cocktails.
Food: My guests were most confused about food. I guided them with a few ideas like: 3 ingredients 3 layers 3 containers 3 colours 3 dishes
My main contribution to the food selection was the grapefruit cheesecake with lemon licorice and vodka cream (with the crust it qualifies as 3 layers). Gorgeously balanced in flavour and decadently rich.
Grapefruit Cheesecake with Lemon Licorice and Vodka Cream
2 cups crushed graham crackers
2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
½ cup melted butter
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 ¼ cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbsp agar agar (powdered)
¼ cup water
1 pound (16 oz) of softened cream cheese
1 ¼ tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2/3 cup whipping cream
2 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp licorice powder (NOTE: I used hard candies I had brought back from Iceland and powdered them in the food processor. You could experiment with various different licorice candies to see which ones crush and/or melt well).
2/3 cups vodka
½ tsp lemon extract
3 cups heavy cream
Mix crust ingredients until evenly combined. Press the crust to the bottom of the pan you will be keeping your cheesecake in (about 9 inches).
Peel the grapefruits and separate segments into small pieces. Drain the juice for the filling.
Combine agar agar and water in a pot and heat on high. Stirring constantly, allow the mixture to boil and remove from heat. Separate 2 eggs. Combine the yolks and remaining whole egg, sugar, salt and 1 tbsp of the juice in a double boiler. Stir regularly. Remove from heat when thickened. Combine this mixture with the agar agar in a bowl.
Beat the cream cheese with the remaining grapefruit juice (½ cup) and lemon juice/rinds. Combine with the egg mixture. Lightly whip heavy cream. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the cream and egg whites into the cheese mixture.
Pour this on top of the crust and chill for several hours.
Mix licorice powder, sugar, lemon extract and vodka in a bowl. Stir until well combined and smooth.
Whip heavy cream with a whisk or an electric mixer until stiff and forms soft peaks.
Gently fold licorice mixture into the cream until well mixed.
Firstly, here are a few photos of my hood: The Berkshires of New York. The colours at the moment are absolutely outrageous. My eyes are outraged by all this beauty.
Maybe it’s planetary or the fact that Halloween, hearty soups and pumpkin pie are imminent, but fall always gives me a feeling like something huge is happening in the world. It could be that nature’s insane peacock display of beauty is so overwhelming. Either way, I can practically taste the colours. I love the smell of cold that lingers on you after a crisp walk and the chill that draws us closer to others for warmth. What a super cool time of year. How lucky am I? So lucky.
Sometimes, to find inspiration when experimenting in the kitchen, I just set several different ingredients out on a table and see what feels right. Looking at the ingredients, I imagine their flavours and textures and see if they could be paired. On this particular occasion I chose cashews as my base.
Cashews have impressed me so many times with their transformative flavour personalities. The vegan movement has spurred on some pretty ingenious ideas (as well as some truly awful ones) and cashews have been a champion in this process. Anyone who has had cream of broccoli soup with creamed cashews to replace dairy cream will know just how wonderful and surprising they can be. Not only did I not notice that it wasn’t dairy when I tried it, but I remarked on how complex and nuanced the soup was. Cashews are light, delicate and creamy and they combine very well with many flavours.
I futzed around with different ingredients (including a nauseating licorice and smoked salt combo) for a while until I found the winning team. Dried cranberries, Indian curry powder and garden fresh pineapple mint also happened to be on my ingredients table. The results were superbly balanced and sophisticated. No one flavour overpowered the other. The cashews saw to it that every player got along with the rest and played fairly. The sweetness of the dried cranberries, the earthy and spicy qualities of the curry powder and the vigor of the mint blended with the cashews in a glorious way. Imagine that.
Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter
1/3 cup cashews
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp fresh chopped mint (I used pineapple mint but spearmint or apple mint will do. I do not recommend peppermint.)
1 tsp Indian curry powder
1-2 tbsp olive oil
a pinch of salt
Blend all ingredients until creamy. Add more olive oil for a smoother consistency.
Try the spread on a piece of toast with some fresh pesto.
It was in Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus (one of my food bibles) where I first heard of chocolate and beetroot being paired. I think my head exploded a tiny bit when I saw the two foods listed side by side. Once I’d gotten over my initial shock of the idea, I found it made perfect sense to combine these two flavours (and textures, I might add). To my surprise, Segnit’s critique of the pair was rather negative. She wrote that it tasted like “a cheap chocolate cake that’s been dropped in a flowerbed”. No matter. Nothing could deter me from trying it. I was hooked.
In fact, Segnit’s comments only fascinated me more. I wanted to start a chocolate and beetroot movement. Somehow I felt I had a duty to get the word out, because certainly no one else had the thought of making this sort of thing before…right? A quick web search proved me wrong and revealed that chocolate and beetroot cakes are everywhere. And in all sorts of forms: molten lava cakes, sweet breads, brownies and cupcakes. They looked good and the bakers/reviewers/eaters couldn’t stop raving about how gorgeously the two complemented each other. I felt the need to catch up with these baked goods. The challenge was on. ON!
Based on their individual flavour merits, beets and chocolate are meant for each other in cake form (or a gorgeous liquid nitrogen ice cream. Anyone?). Here are a few reasons why:
Beetroot: Beets are unique for their sweet and earthy character. These qualities together have a tendency to turn people off. As a beet advocate, I find it tragic when people decide they don’t like beets based on one or two poor experiences. Like the time they tried plain boiled beets (or worse… canned beets!) or were the victim of someone’s boring, mushy cooking. The genius in the complexity and tones of beets is how they accent and respond to other flavours; sour, salty, herby and in the case of this recipe, sweet. The beetroot not only compliments the chocolate in flavour, it also makes the cake incredibly moist and light while still providing that rich chocolaty experience we all want when eating cake. Yum, yes and yeah.
Chocolate: Chocolate has a wide variety of flavour due to the multitude of processing it undergoes. Cocoa beans, fresh off the tree, are bitter, astringent and pretty much horrible. Once processed, chocolate falls into the roasted flavour category. Left unsweetened, chocolate is still quite bitter, but the roasting process introduces a rich nuttiness that responds incredibly well to sweeter flavours. I like to think of cocoa powder as a black canvas ready for lightening, and since it’s sort of a black hole of roasted goodness, it is very forgiving and accepting. Chocolate regularly opens its loving arms to coffee, mint, fruit, nuts and chilies. I found no reason that beets shouldn’t also be a part of that following.
Did chocolate beetroot cake disappoint? No, it’s only surged my expectations higher. There were no flowerbeds in my kitchen that day.
Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing
For the cake:
1 ½ cup beets, boiled and mostly blended (about 2 or 3)
1 cup cocoa powder (or melted bittersweet chocolate)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup black tea (or water)
1 cup butter (melted)
1 cup flour
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
5 eggs (separated)
¼ tsp salt
For the icing:
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3 tbsp cream cheese
½ tsp vanilla extract
Peel and quarter the beets. Boil for about 30 minutes. Blend the beets in a food processor (I left a few small chunks unblended for a pleasingly colourful effect).
Preheat oven at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas mark 4.
In a large bowl mix cocoa, tea and butter together until smooth. When it mixed well, add egg yolks and the blended beets.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
In yet a third large bowl whip the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold in sugar until it combines with the egg whites. Then fold in the chocolate/beet mixture. Once combined, fold in the dry mixture until smooth.
Pour into a greased pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. Test your cake by poking it with a fork. If it comes out clean, your cake is done.
While the cake is baking, combine your icing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add more cream cheese to achieve a thicker consistency. Add more yogurt to achieve a runnier icing. Let your icing set in the fridge.
Let your cake cool. Then ice it. Then drool over what you just made.