Monday, April 6, 2015

A Weird Salad That Works

Spinach, mint, and prunes do not sound like a combination anyone would ever want to eat. But…it works. And people eat it. And then rave about it. And no one knows why.

Since the flavour of both spinach and mint will change from season to season, this is a taste-as-you go recipe. Take care not to add too much mint, as it can overpower the spinach depending on how strongly-flavoured it is.

Makes 8 to 12 servings, depending on how well your guests can accept that they are eating prunes and liking it.

7 to 8 cups young (but not baby) spinach, torn (1 bag, about 12 oz)
2/3 to 1 cup mint leaves, stems removed, chopped
1 cup prunes, roughly chopped
1 cup candied pecans (look for “honey-somethingorother pecans" in the bulk section)
1/2 to 1 bottle raspberry vinaigrette (I use Renée’s Ravin’ Raspberry)
a few pinches of salt, if the spinach is bitter

Toss together salad, starting with about two-thirds of the mint and half the salad dressing. Taste, and add more of each until it seems right.

Note: Add dressing just before serving or salad will wilt.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homemade Iced Coffee

With the warm weather returning, I am looking forward to once again enjoying frosty blender drinks. Cold-brewed coffee syrup is easy to make, and far superior to using normal brewed coffee, which can taste quite bitter when chilled. Once you have coffee syrup in your fridge, making fancy iced and blender coffees at home is easy. Bring on the brain freeze!

filtered water
your favorite coffee, ideally coarse grind

pitcher or bottle (choose one that pours well, and is wide enough to easily clean out used coffee grounds)
large funnel
several paper coffee filters
bottle with cap or stopper (or two smaller bottles) to store coffee syrup; clean wine or pop bottles work well

If you have a kitchen scale, measure the water and coffee using an approximate ratio of 10 parts water to one part coffee. Some of the water will be soaked up by the coffee, so use more water than will fill your storage bottle. Here are some rough guidelines:

Bottle size
24 ounce
wine bottle
(750 mL)
1 quart
pop bottle
(1 liter)
2 quart pop
or juice bottle
(1.89 liter)
3¾ cups
(900 mL)
5 cups
(1250 mL)
9 ½ cups
(2400 mL)
Coffee weight
3 ounces
(90 grams)
¼ pound
(125 grams)
½ pound
(250 grams)
Approximate coffee volume
1 cup
1¼ cups
2½ cups

Combine coffee and water in your pitcher; stir well to ensure all the coffee is soaked. Set aside for 8 – 12 hours. Don’t let it go more than 12 hours! The flavor won’t suffer, but filtering the coffee becomes progressively slower the longer the coffee has been left to soak up water. Likewise, if you use a fine grind instead of coarse, filter the coffee sooner rather than later.

Warning: this next step takes a bit of time.
Set a large funnel over a clean bottle and insert a coffee filter. Gently pour coffee syrup through filter to strain grounds. Most of the coffee will have settled to the bottom of your pitcher; take care to not disturb the grounds while pouring off the syrup, in order to keep the filter from clogging too quickly. Filters will get clogged to the point that the coffee syrup just doesn’t run through; replace filters as the flow of coffee slows down.

Once the syrup is completely filtered, cap the bottle and chill for several hours. Syrup will last for a month or more in the refrigerator.

To make an iced cappuccino

¾ cup coffee syrup
1/3 cup half & half (10%) cream, or ½ cup milk
½ cup ice cubes
2 teaspoons sugar (or equivalent sweetener), or more to taste

Combine all ingredients in a mini blender and pulse until ice is completely crushed. Pour into your favorite glass, add a straw and enjoy! 

Mocha variation

Add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder with the rest of the ingredients.

Happy Hour variation

Add a shot of your favourite liqueur: Irish cream, Kahlúa,  amaretto, crème de cacao, or Frangelico.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Mother's Salmon Quiche

Tasty. Classic. Foolproof. Thanks Mom!

Makes 4–6 servings.

1 9-inch pastry shell
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 teaspoon butter
3–4 large eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup cream or milk
½ teaspoon salt
7 ounces canned salmon (one tall can), drained and flaked
2½ tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (about 4 ounces)

Poke holes in your pastry shell with a fork to prevent bubbling (called docking the crust). Bake the pastry according to package directions your recipe. (Because you so totally made it from scratch...just like I do. Yep.)

Meanwhile, fry onion in butter to brown. Beat eggs with milk and cream; stir in onion and salt.

Combine salmon and parsley, and place in baked pastry shell (that was definitely made from scratch, yeah-huh). Sprinkle with cheese. Pour egg mixture over top.

Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes, or microwave on high for 17 minutes. Quiche is done when it is a custard consistency (a little jiggly in the centre). Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with a salad of simple greens. Probably also made from scratch.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Holiday Turnip

This our favorite turnip dish (favorite turnip…never before in the history of humanity have those words been paired together). It is so loved that it is hard to think of Christmas without it; my family reserves the same level of anxiety for the turnip as we do the pie (“Are you bringing it? Are you sure you can? Should I bring it just in case? OMG who is bringing the turnip thishastohappenorChristmaswillberuined!”). Well, maybe just my anxiety.

This recipe also has great versatility: not only can it be made well in advance, but it tolerates adjustments very well. Love apples? Increase them to two, or even three. Watching your calories? Cut the sugar and butter in the filling by half. Really watching your calories? Cut out the sugar and butter in the filling entirely and substitute in a couple sweeter apples, such as Spy or Golden Delicious. Don’t love apples? Try pears. Want a quick weeknight side dish? Skip the topping—and baking—entirely (microwave the apple chunks for a few minutes to soften them up).

Makes 8–12 servings…depending on how much you actually love turnip.

1 large rutabaga*, peeled and diced ½ inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1 dash cinnamon
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chunked

cup brown sugar
cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into pieces

Boil turnip until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain well and mash with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in apple chunks. To make in advance: refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze (in a ziplock with the air squeezed out) for up to 1 month. Warm up to at least lukewarm before adding topping.

In a small bowl, blend together the flour and sugar, then cut in the butter until crumbly. To make in advance: freeze topping separately from turnip base until ready to bake. Can be used straight from frozen.

Place warm turnip mixture in greased casserole dish (what size? It doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a half inch up top to dam boil-overs). Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350F for 1 hour, until turnip is bubbling and topping is golden. (To cut down on oven time, heat up turnip base in a microwave until steaming, then add topping and bake for 20 to 30 minutes.)

*Rutabaga is an oversized turnip (called a swede outside of North America) about the size of a large grapefruit. It’s sweeter than regular turnip and has lovely deep yellow flesh. If you can’t find rutabagas, substitute about 4 normal (apple-sized) turnips.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Eggnog French Toast

Every year, I get one or two requests for the French toast recipe I prepare for Christmas brunch. It is the perfect recipe for Christmas morning: it takes just ten minutes to prep the night before, and in the morning all you have to do is pop it in the oven. It pleases a crowd, too; the recipe serves eight, and even those not keen on eggnog like it. Add some bacon, coffee, and mimosas, and you're done.

I highly recommend the accompanying compote; it is the magic ingredient that makes the whole meal extra special. It takes a bit more time than the French toast itself, but can easily be made a couple days in advance. If you want to cut the fat in the compote recipe a little, I have found it is safe to reduce or omit the first four tablespoons of butter without too much difference to the taste...but on Christmas Day, the butter stays!

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for our annual tradition. I follow a Bon Appetit recipe exactly as it was printed in December 2001. (Best. issue. ever. If there is ever a fire, my order of rescue is: the kid, the hamster, the Mac, and my Dec '01 BA. Yes, I think about these things.) Luckily, BA graciously posts all their recipes for free at Epicurious. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Black Forest Oatmeal

In a technical sense, this breakfast can be considered healthy: it has a serving of oatmeal (whole grain!), cherries (fruit!), and pudding (milk and eggs! and cocoa! antioxidants! Give a girl a break, okay?) Very healthy and balanced, indeed. This is what I tell myself when I eat it three days in a row. Which has never happened, I swear. Really. Because I’m good. But so is this oatmeal.


The recipe is for one serving; scale as needed.

¼ cup quick oats*
¼ cup milk or almond milk
¼ cup water
¼ to ½ tsp sugar or sweetener
1 shake of salt
½ cup chocolate pudding
cup canned sour cherries, drained (I recommend S&F brand)
1 dollop whip cream or cool whip

Combine the first five ingredients in a small pot. Bring up to a gentle boil over medium heat. Simmer, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature (cooling can be sped up by placing the pot in a shallow bath of cold water and stirring occasionally).

Layer all ingredients in a bowl, or if you want to get fancy, a large parfait glass. Tell yourself it’s good for you. Then eat it all. Because—every once in a while—it’s important to eat pudding and whip cream for breakfast.

*Rolled or steel-cut oats can be substituted; adjust liquid quantities and cooking times according to package directions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hummus bi Tahini

Hummus is one of those grocery store items that is egregiously overpriced, enjoying a markup of 500 to 1000%. But it is ridiculously easy to make with a food processor or decent blender. And like many things, homemade always tastes better. It freezes well too, so even if this recipe makes too much for you (but really, who doesn’t want to eat three cups of hummus in one sitting?), it’s still worth making at home.

Serve hummus as a dip with pita bread (Arab style, not Greek), raw veg, or pretzels. Or use it as a spread in sandwiches and wraps.

1 can (540 mL/19 ounces) chickpeas*
4 tbsp tahini**
4 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
2 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil (do not use “light-tasting” olive oil)
couple pinches salt
pinch ground cayenne

Drain and reserve a bit of the liquid off the chickpeas, leaving enough to just cover the peas. Place the chickpeas, their liquid, and remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process to a smooth purée.

Taste and adjust the salt. Adjust the consistency as necessary with the reserved chickpea liquid (note: the hummus will firm up a bit after chilling). If you want the hummus to have a light “whipped” consistency, omit the extra liquid and process for a couple extra minutes.

Chill hummus for at least an hour. To serve as a dip, spread in a shallow dish, drizzle with olive oil and top with finely chopped parsley, plus any of the following:

Sprinkling of ground paprika, cumin, or cayenne
A few whole chickpeas, reserved from the can
Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
Artichoke hearts, julienned
Roasted red peppers, julienned
Black olives, sliced
Cucumber, diced
Green onions/scallions, sliced
Roasted garlic
Toasted pine nuts

*I swear by Unico chickpeas. So does everyone I know. The end.
**A description of tahini and where you can buy it can be found here.