Yesterday we unexpectedly received rather a large amount of snow (we measured 21 centimeters at one point!), and in usual snowy Victoria fashion, the roads were terrible, life slowed to a halt, and neither Nate nor myself went to work. Instead, we spent the day on the couch watching season one of Mad Men, and I did some baking. Seeing as I had all day, I made a quiche, which I find inevitably ends up taking about three times as long as I think it will. I also tried to modify my usual fantastic, go-to banana bread recipe to be sugar-free, but it turned out to be not-so-fantastic sans sugar 🙁 Someday I’ll perfect the recipe and share it, but in the meantime, here’s my quiche recipe.
Quite a while ago I stumbled across a recipe for a breakfast pizza topped with bacon, eggs, and cheese. Of course I can’t remember where I originally saw it, but I filed it away in my brain for later. I’ve been craving pizza lately, and as Nate and I went out for breakfast yesterday, I figured I would make something at home this morning, and breakfast pizza fit the bill.
The pizza dough recipe comes from my trusted friend Martha’s Everyday Food magazine. I mixed it up the night before and let it rise overnight in the fridge, rather than delaying breakfast by waiting for it to rise in the morning. Originally it was for grilled barbequed pizza, but I’ve figured out how to bake it very successfully in the oven. The trick is high heat (500˚ F) and baking the pizza on parchment paper rather than on a baking sheet (I’m sure a pizza stone would also work, but I don’t have one). As this makes a thin crust pizza, it’s best not to overload it with toppings – I adhere to the same principle of less is more for pizza as I do for burritos 😉
This recipe makes two 10-inch oval pizzas topped with two eggs each, enough for two pretty generous servings. If you are not so hungry, you could shape the dough into a slightly smaller circle (8 or 9 inches in diameter) and use only one egg in the centre of each pizza. The variations are pretty infinite: you could divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces and make small little pizzas (5-6 inches in diameter, 1 egg each) to serve alongside fruit or hashbrowns or something, or you could make one giant pizza and top it with 4 or more eggs to feed a crowd (if you are going to double the recipe, I would still recommend making two pizzas, as it might start getting out of control size-wise). If you are in the habit of having guests for breakfast or feeding a large number of family members, this would be a good recipe to try because it’s ready all at once (unlike pancakes or waffles or omelettes which cook one or two at a time) and can be eaten with your hands….
This recipe was posted to go along with the Breakfast Pizza, but obviously it can be used as a base for any kind of pizza!
Originally this dough was for grilled barbequed pizza, but I’ve modified it to bake in the oven. This version is half of the original recipe, so feel free to double it (FYI, 1 cup + 2 tbsp doubled is 2 1/4 cups). Makes 1/2 lb of dough, enough for tw0 8 to 10-inch pizzas. Adapted from Everyday Food magazine, July/August 2010, Issue 74, page 96. Original recipe available here.
1/2 cup warm tap water
1/2 tsp honey
1 1/8 tsp instant dry yeast
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup + 2 tbsp bread flour or all purpose flour (I usually sub in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
Pour warm tap water into a medium bowl (water should be quite warm – almost bath water warm). Stir in the honey and sprinkle with yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes, until foamy (my yeast usually ends up looking more sludgey than foamy, but it still works fine!).
Whisk olive oil and salt into the yeast mixture. Add flour and mix with a wooden spoon until it comes together in a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until it comes together in an elastic ball. Transfer to an oiled medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size. Punch down, cover, and let rise another 30 minutes while you prepare the pizza toppings. (Alternatively, let rise overnight in the refrigerator, remove from the fridge, punch down, then allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before proceeding.)
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Let rest for a few minutes before using.
Stretch and roll dough to desired shape, add toppings, and bake on parchment paper in a preheated 500˚ F oven for about 10 minutes, until bottom of dough is golden brown.
Last weekend, Nate bought me a car stereo as an early Valentine’s present, and he and Sam installed in on Sunday. I made a roast chicken dinner for them to show my appreciation – nothing like comfort food to say “thank you”!
There are a bazillion different methods for roasting a chicken, and this one is a pretty standard variation: start with a high heat, turn it down slightly when the bird goes is, rub the skin with oil to make it crispy, season the outside and stuff the cavity with aromatics. I have found that best roasting vessel is a large cast iron frying pan with the chicken on a circular rack, because that way you can simply remove the chicken and rack from the pan and use it to make gravy, without losing any of the drippings or pan juices.
What makes a roast chicken special is the gravy, and I can confidently say that I make a mean gravy. Mostly I owe this to my Dad, whose secret ingredient in chicken and turkey gravy used to be finely chopped dried, salted, Chinese blackbeans. I know that sounds totally weird and gross, but the salty, umami flavour that they imparted to the gravy was SO GOOD. I’ve taken that idea and run with it, only now my secret ingredients are soy sauce, Marmite, Worchestershire sauce, and balsamic vinegar instead of black beans. The soy sauce adds saltiness and umami and more flavour than just salt would. It also adds colour, which I think is just as important as flavour – a nice, rich, brown gravy is way more appetizing to me than a pale, thin-looking one. The Marmite also adds a bit of salt and a meaty, almost yeasty flavour. Even if you don’t like Marmite, you will like what it does for gravy. Worchestershire is a pretty standard ingredient and adds good flavour, but be careful not to add too much, as it can be overpowering. My uncle Mike gave me the idea of adding a small amount of balsamic vinegar to the gravy at the end, to brighten the flavours and cut through the richness with a touch of acidity.
The most important thing to remember when making gravy is to keep tasting it and to add liquid and seasonings in small amounts, as it is always easier to add more than it is to subtract!…
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!
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.