Second Saturday is a “club” consisting of my friends Lynette, Katheryn, Tangle, and I, where we go out somewhere for drinks and food every second Saturday of the month (hence the name).
My aunt recently spent a month in Paris (lucky!), and she sent me a box of culinary goodies, the contents of which included some crystallized sugar, sea salt “pearls” (which apparently form naturally into these large, pea-sized balls – I’m not too sure what to do with them, but they’re cool!), green tea “dust” for sprinkling on baked goods, and – drumroll! – French macarons.
For those of you unfamiliar with the macaron, it is essentially an almond meringue petit four sandwich cookie, made of ground almonds, icing sugar, egg whites, and a delicious filling. The outside is crunchy, the inside is slightly soft and moist, and it all melts deliciously on the tongue. Macarons come in as many flavour and filling combinations as you could possibly think of, from ketchup (yes, ketchup!) to pistachio to chocolate. They are an essential French pastry, and I don’t think I have had one since I was in Paris myself 9 years ago. They were pretty much my favorite part of the trip, and as I mentioned, they come in almost every flavour imaginable, so there is no way you can get tired of them. Or, at least, I can’t.
Anyway. The macarons sent by my aunt were from Ladurée, a French tea salon that also has stores in London, Switzerland, Monaco, and Tokyo (just in case you are ever in those areas of the world and are craving a French macaron). The flavours in the box were Chocolate, Caramel with Salted Butter, Rose, and either Raspberry or Blackcurrant Violet – I’m not sure which. Despite the fact that they were a tiny bit stale and a tiny bit crumbly from being mailed, they were delicious. The Caramel was devine – the salted butter was just the right note against the sweet and toasty caramel flavour – and I also really liked the Raspberry/Blackcurrant Violet one – it was the most amazing purple colour. The Rose was interesting – I bit into it thinking it would be strawberry, and then got this floral aroma on my tongue that took me a minute to place, as rose isn’t usually something you taste. And the Chocolate… well, I love chocolate. That’s about all that needs to be said.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m still doing this 30 days of no refined sugar thing? Yeah, that went out the window for the macarons. They wouldn’t keep for another week (when the 30 day challenge ends), and there was no way I wasn’t going to eat them!
There are tons of websites and blog posts dedicated to perfecting the art of the macaron, which apparently can be quite tricky. David Lebovitz has an extensive resource list for macaron making on his blog, along with a delicious-sounding recipe for chocolate macarons. My trusted friend Martha also has a basic recipe with several flavour variations (such as saffron with chocolate ganache, black tea with sweet mango filling, pistachio with orange floswer cream, and chocolate with lavendar ganache) in the 2010 Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine. So there is lots of inspiration floating around…
I’m planning on making them myself some day. Stay tuned.
As promised is Part I, here is the recipe for Hazelnut Shortbread. As I said previously, this cookie has a beautiful crumbly texture, great hazelnut flavour, and is not overly sweet at all. It may have been my favorite cookie this year.
Again, when baking shortbread, using real unsalted butter is a must. Because there are so few ingredients, butter really plays a starring role, and the flavour will be worth it.
The original recipe directs you to press the dough into two 8-inch cake pans and then score into wedges. I wanted to yield more, smaller cookies, so I shaped the dough into a triangular log, stuck it in the fridge until firm, cut it into slices, and sprinkled each one with raw sugar. The baking time was shorter as well, but I can’t remember exactly how long I baked them for. I would start checking for doneness after about 10 minutes.
(adapted from Hazelnut Shortbread Wedges, Canadian Living Special Cookbook Issue, Fall 2010, pg 52)
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
raw sugar (or granulated sugar), for sprinkling
On a baking sheet, toast hazelnuts in a 350˚ F oven until browned and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Rub in a clean tea towel to remove most of the skins, and set aside nuts to cool. Once cool grind the nuts in a food processor with the brown sugar.
Beat together butter and hazelnuts/sugar mixture until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and salt. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a log (triangular if you’re feeling fancy). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake, cut the chilled dough into slices about 1/2 cm thick. Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake at 300˚ F until golden and firm, checking for doneness after 10 minutes. Remove to rack to cool.
Makes quite a few!
This evening Sam, Nate, and I went to Christie’s Carriage House Pub for wings and beer. We were worried that it would be super busy because not only was it Wing Wednesday, there was also a Canucks game on, but we got there around 6 and there was plenty of room.
Christie’s has good wings. I already knew that, but this visit cemented it. We had several flavours going on: sweet Thai chili (deliciously sticky and sweet with a chili kick), Saharan dry (crisp and spicy with a peppery dry rub), Blue Boy (hot sauce and blue cheese together in mouth-watering harmony) and teriyaki, which I didn’t taste but I’m sure was just as good as the others. So 10/10 on the wings.
So as to be slightly healthy along with my chicken wing binge, I ordered a small green salad. Often a salad in a pub is a sad thing, but this one was pretty good. The salad greens were crisp and fresh (romaine plus some spring-mix-ish leaves), the cucumber slice was not too unwieldy (I hate it when they hide a 3-inch long slice of cuke in the middle of a perfectly good salad), the carrot was freshly grated, and the pickled beet slivers on top were a nice touch, as were the dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. I have a feeling that the sundried tomato dressing was not made in-house, but it was still tasty. I didn’t peruse the menu past the wings and salads, but the burgers at the next table looked awesome – stacked high on a hand-made-looking bun (?) and skewered with a steak knife.
Christie’s has an extensive collection of beers on tap – 34! – including lots of local island (Phillips, Vancouver Island, Driftwood) and mainland microbreweries. Every time I am there I mean to try the Back Hand of God stout, but I usually chicken out. Next time! This time I had the Driftwood ale, which was pretty good – bitter, but I’m starting to like bitter beer more and more.
The price was also quite reasonable: I had a dozen wings (29 cents each), a small salad, and the special beer on tap, which came to under $13 after tax. Pretty decent for a meal that included a beer.
I think the trick to Christie’s is figuring out when it’s not too busy, because we have tried to get in a few times before and they have had no space – and judging by the lineup at the door when we left at 7, it fills up when there is a hockey game on. But it’s safe to say we will be back to sample some more things off the menu, now that Nate’s wing craving has been satisfied.
I made some fantastic “Healthy Cookies” from 101 Cookbooks, a food blog that features whole, healthy foods, delicious recipes, and an emphasis on alternative sweeteners rather than refined sugar. This cookie recipe calls for coconut oil, which might send up red flags for some people because it is a saturated fat, but it is from a plant-source rather than an animal-source, and therefore acts differently in the body (ie, not as harmful). My take on it is this: in tropical cultures that eat a traditional diet high in saturated fats from plants, such as coconut oil, there is a very low incidence of “Western diseases” (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc). Mother Nature knows her stuff, and coconut oil is a naturally-occurring saturated fat – that is, not tampered with to make a liquid fat stay solid at room temperature (like margarine) – and therefore I’m inclined to think that it’s not going to do me any harm in moderation, kind of the same stance I have on butter. But if you’re worried, you can substitute olive oil for the coconut oil – just make sure it is mild or neutral-flavoured.
I also used sugar-free chocolate chips (sweetened with maltitol, which interestingly has almost the same chemical properties as refined sugar, but doesn’t mess with blood sugar levels as much AND as a bonus doesn’t promote tooth decay!) and added some ground flax seeds to the dough. The bananas can easily be substituted for applesauce or any other fruit puree (you don’t actually taste the banana, it just lends sweetness), and the chocolate chips for dried fruit (if, for example, you wanted to make breakfast cookies, Lynette!). These are super delicious and not too sweet, with kind of a macaroon-like texture. I think I ate about four in a row when they first came out of the oven, which kind of negates the “healthy” part, but oh well!
(adapted slightly from the original recipe at 101 Cookbooks)
3 large, ripe bananas (the ones you would use for banana bread), well mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid (or alternately, neutral-flavoured olive oil)
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup almond meal (aka ground almonds)
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded & unsweetened
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Mix together bananas, vanilla, and oil, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls (you may need to squish the dough together a bit, as it is fairly loose) onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes (as long as possible without burning the bottoms). These are quite crumbly when warm! Let cool and store in an airtight container.
For me, the Christmas Season begins when I buy my first Christmas cookie magazine of the year. Usually it is Martha Stewart or Canadian Living, but whatever it is, it results in me hauling out my large stack of past years’ Christmas cookie magazines and creating lists of what I’m going to bake this year. This list drafting usually takes me a few tries before I am satisfied with the selection: old favorites, new additions, chocolate, shortbread, dried fruit, nuts, something spicy… the criteria changes a bit every year. The staples for the last few years have been White Chocolate Cranberry Almond Biscotti, Chocolate and Black Pepper Cookies, Sparkly Ginger Cookies, and Lemon White Chocolate Pistachio Sandwich Cookies. Obviously, all this baking results in a profusion of Christmas cookies, which I package up and give to my family and friends as gifts. I figure it’s a win-win situation: I get to bake to my heart’s content, and they get to eat the fruits of my labour.
(Apparently it’s not as much of a win-win for those living with me during this baking mania. Both my roommate and my boyfriend have told me that it’s torture seeing and smelling all these cookies, and but not being allowed to eat any until the leftovers after I have divided them all up into cookie tins for gifting!)
This year, I tried two new shortbread recipes: Piped Coffee Kisses and Hazelnut Shortbread. OH MY GOODNESS were they ever good. This may sound odd, but the Coffee Kisses made my hair smell like coffee and cookies, which was delicious. The Hazelnut Shortbread was crumbly, flavourful, and not too sweet. I think they will both make the list for next year!
One thing to note about shortbread: because it is basically just butter, flour, and sugar, the quality of ingredients makes a big different to the finished product’s taste. For this reason it is important to use real, unsalted butter (unsalted so that you can control the amount of salt in the recipe). The temptation to use margarine is there, but don’t do it! The flavour will be SO much better with butter. And if these are only special occasion cookies then you don’t have to feel guilty about the amount of butter!
Piped Coffee Kisses
(from Canadian Living, December 2010, pg 224, also available here)
This dough is best made with an electric or stand mixer to get the airy texture needed for piping.
1 cup unsalted butter, very soft (but not melted)
2/3 cup icing sugar
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Garnish: coffee beans
Preheat oven to 325˚ F. Beat butter with icing sugar until fluffy. Dissolve the espresso powder in the vanilla and add to the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the flour and salt.
Spoon dough into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch star tip and pipe cookies, 2 inches apart, onto parchment paper-lined cookies sheets. The cookies should be fairly small, about the size of a twoonie. (If you don’t have a piping bag, you could drop the dough by scant teaspoonfuls instead.) Garnish the top of each cookie with a coffee bean (I used a small silver nonpareil ball instead).
Bake until golden on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Enjoy the heavenly fragrance coming from your oven. Transfer to a rack and cool completely.
The original recipe says it yields 60 cookies, but I didn’t get that many (I think my cookies were on the large side).
* * *
Recipe for Hazelnut Shortbread forthcoming in Part II!
A few years ago my friend Lynette got me a year’s subscription to the Everyday Food magazine, published by Martha Stewart Living. I have a collection of about 20 issues now, and they all contain fantastically easy and delicious recipes that are great for a weekday meal (or a weekend meal, for that matter!). This pork picadillo from the June 2007 issue is a Latin-American/Mexican dish that can be used as a burrito filling, on nachos, in a quesadilla, over rice… you get the picture. I’ve only ever tried it in a burrito, but I can imagine that it would be just as good in any other application. I love the combination of smoky chipotle heat with a hint of cinnamon and cloves, along with the sweetness of the raisins. Sounds odd? Try it – it’s wonderful!
We had this in burritos along with cumin-spiced black beans, fresh Mexican-style farmer’s cheese (available at Fairways, of all places!), sour cream, salsa, lettuce, and cilantro. I am becoming a believer in the less-is-more approach to burritos – choose a few delicious toppings that compliment the flavour of the filling, rather than overwhelming it. It also makes the burrito easier to hold, fold, and eat!
The original recipe makes a lot, but it freezes well. I’ve reduced it by roughly half and adjusted the seasonings a bit. Usually the Everyday Food magazine recipes are available on the Martha Stewart website, but for some reason I can’t find this one
(adapted from Everyday Food, Issue 43, pg 66, June 2007)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 chipoltes in adobo, finely chopped (or about 1 tbsp chipotle purée)
1 tsp ancho, chipotle, or regular chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
just over 1 pound of lean ground pork (lean is important, otherwise you end up with greasy filling)
1 14 oz can of chopped or crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
In a 2-quart pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add tomato paste, chipotle, chili powder, cinnamon, and cloves; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add pork and cook until no longer pink, stirring to break up any lumps. Add tomatoes, vinegar, and raisins, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, until thickened, 30 to 40 minutes.
Serve as a burrito or quesadilla filling, over rice, on nachos, in a stuffed pepper, over a baked potato… Makes at least enough for 4 burritos.
Last night we had burritos with pork picadillo filling (recipe here), and this morning for breakfast I made huevos rancheros with the leftover beans and tortillas. This is a take on the version of huevos that is served at our favorite breakfast place, Spoons Diner. Nate orders this about 90% of the time we go there, and the other week I finally tried it myself – delicious! I have no idea how authentic it is (probably not very!) but it is sure good, and very filling.
In a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, brown a flour tortilla on one side. Flip it over in the pan and remove the pan from the heat. Spread beans (I used whole black beans spiced with cumin, but you could use refrieds or whatever you want) over the tortilla and sprinkle with cheese. I used cheddar and a Mexican-style fresh farmer’s cheese. Place the pan under the broiler until the tortilla is browned and the cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, in a small non-stick, oven-safe pan, melt a little butter and fry 2 eggs (or just one, depending on how hungry you are). Season with salt and pepper, but do not flip over – instead, sprinkle with more cheese and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and the yolks are still a little bit jiggly.
Place the tortilla on a plate. Stir together about 1 tbsp of sour cream and 1 tsp of chipotle puree (or chipotle powder, or regular chili powder) and drizzle over the tortilla. Top with the cheesey eggs and dollop with salsa. Guacamole would also be good. Dig in.
Have you ever had Lesley Stowe’s Rosemary Raisin Pecan Raincoast Crisps? Would you agree that they are among the best things you have ever tasted?
I came across a recipe for these amazing crackers at Dinner with Julie a few months ago, and made a mental note to try them out. I am currently doing a 30-day no-refined-sugar challenge with a friend of mine, and I wanted to experiment with using alternative sweeteners in baking. Seeing as the recipe for these crisps calls for only a small amount (1/4 cup) of brown sugar, I thought it would be a good place to start experimenting, and it would also give me a delicious snack to nibble on so that I wouldn’t miss refined-sugary treats so much!
There are lots of tips on the web for substituting liquid sweeteners in place of dry sugar in baking, but the resource I used was this one. You need to add more or less sweetener depending on how sweet it is compared to regular sugar, and also to reduce the liquid in the recipe to adjust for the added moisture. Following this advice, I used 1/3 cup of brown rice syrup plus about 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses in place of the brown sugar, and decreased the amount of buttermilk by a smidgeon (probably about 2 tablespoons). I also substituted 1 cup of whole wheat flour for 1 cup of all purpose.
These crackers are sort of like biscotti, in that you bake them once (in a loaf pan), then slice them thin and bake again until crisp. When the loaves were baking, they smelled incredible – just like the originals. I was a bit worried about the colour, as they seemed very light, but I just put a batch through their second baking, and they look, smell, and taste exactly like the real thing!
Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps (no refined sugar!)
Original recipe from Dinner with Julie can be found here.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 scant cups buttermilk
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 tbsp. blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed, ground
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Grease two 8×4 inch loaf pans or spray with cooking spray.
In a large bowl stir together flours, baking soda, and salt. In a smaller bowl whisk together buttermilk, brown rice syrup, molasses, and honey. Stir into the flour mixture using only a few strokes (it should still be lumpy like muffin batter). Add the remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.
Pour into the prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the pans and cool completely.
When the loaves and completely cool, slice as thin as possible and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet (I used parchment paper, just in case!). The original recipe suggests freezing the loaves to make slicing easier, which is what I did, and I would recommend it. It also means you can bake one loaf at a time, and leave one loaf frozen for later! To slice, I used a freshly-sharpened straight-edge knife, rather than a serrated knife.
Bake the slices in a 300˚ F oven for about 15 minutes, flip, and bake another 10 minutes, until crisp and dark brown (be careful not to burn them – it’s a fine line!). Cool on a rack. Warning: these are addictive – good thing you have another loaf in the freezer for later, hey? 😉
Makes about 8 dozen crisps.