cookie cakes and the disappearance of December

January 24, 2013  |  Food  |  ,  |  No Comments

Of the ten or so recipes I have scribbled down into a little journal of my favourites – the ones I keep coming back to and want to always have handy – Mexican Wedding Cakes are on the second page.  This is a testament to both how much I love them and how bad I’ve gotten at writing things by hand.

Mexican Wedding Cakes are the cookies I make for Christmas, or for coffee, or when I want to make something sweet but don’t want to get groceries – they come together quickly and their brief ingredient list is about as basic and they come.

For the handful of times I’ve visited that colorful and delicious country, I’ve never seen a Mexican Wedding Cake in Mexico, and while I’m certainly just a fan of and not an expert on Mexican food, the internet tells me these cookies also roll by names like ‘Russian Tea Cakes’, ‘Italian Butter Nut’, ‘Pecan Butterballs’, ‘Viennese Sugar Ball’ and ‘Snowballs’.  If you’ve had them I think you’ll agree that, although it is curious that they are referred to as cake when they are clearly very cookie, their name or provenance is less important than the fact that they can and should be a part of your life in a big way.  These are page two cookies, the kind that belong just behind that one recipe your grandma, or uncle, or best friend makes that takes the gold star in your book.  I got to know them many years ago through Capers Community Market, a small organic grocery chain that had a rocking bakery and deli section and put stars in the eyes of many Vancouverites until it was bought out by Whole Foods.  While the new shops still have pretty nice bakeries, Mexican Wedding Cakes were what I would always go for, the thing that would bring me in the doors in the first place, and for some reason they seem to have been laid off in the transition. Luckily, as I mentioned, they are about as easy as anything to make at home.

I always find January a bit of an awkward month to tumble into.  As the holidays end, talk of poultry and pies turn into salads and detoxes.  People visiting go back to where they came from – or the other way around if you are a person visiting, as I was – and the blur of happy reunions and alarm-clock-free living is suddenly gone.  January is that month, the one that shows up just a little too early, too bright eyed and ready to go.  And while I realise it’s almost come and gone now, I wish I could kindly ask January to cool its jets because my thoughts are still taken with snowshoeing and holiday cookies.

So, when I was invited for dinner to an Italian friend’s house last Sunday, I decided to make this fast and favourite cookie.  Yet, despite the number of times I’ve mentioned above how easy these come together, I was pressed for time and took some shortcuts.  Instead of toasting and grinding the nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts are particularly excellent) I used blanched, ground almonds.  To compensate for the loss of that toasty, nutty flavour, I decided to brown the butter which, conveniently, also meant I wouldn’t need to let it soften. Then, thinking of the Italian dinner ahead and taking inspiration from a favourite biscotti, I threw in some chopped dark chocolate, dried cranberries and flaked coconut.  The reaction I got from my friends – who had just floored me with an impressive spread that began with homemade piadina – was so through-the-roof that I thought it might be a good idea to put this version of the cookie up here.

Brown Butter Mexican Wedding Cakes
adapted from here

1 cup butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
100 grams dark chocolate, chopped into about 1cm chunks (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
1/2 cup flaked coconut (optional)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
a generous pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F / 175 °C.  To brown the butter in the oven as it preheats, place it in a heatproof bowl near the bottom of the oven. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn, and remove once butter is melted, smells slightly nutty and has small flecks of brown on the surface. Depending on how fast your oven preheats, this should take around 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the next 3 ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined.  Mix in chocolate, cranberries, and coconut if using.  Stir melted butter and vanilla extract into flour and nut mixture until just combined. Divide dough into 2 balls, wrap separately in plastic and place in freezer for 10 minutes.

In a pie plate or bowl, mix together the rest of the powdered sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside.

Remove half of chilled dough and transfer the other half to the frigde.  Taking scoops of about 1 tablespoon of dough, roll into balls and place evenly on a baking sheet, spacing them out by an inch.  Bake for about 20 minutes until slightly golden brown colored.  Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes (they should still be warm) and then roll in the sugar and cinnamon mixture, then set cookies aside to cool completely. Note : the sugar will melt slightly and transform to the texture of heaven.  This may be the best part of the cookie.

Repeat with remaining dough.

Before serving, sift remaining sugar over cookies.

gallo pinto with fried bananas

December 7, 2012  |  Food  |  , , ,  |  No Comments

There are days when nothing hit’s the spot like a cold, raw banana chopped into a bowl of müsli and yogurt.

These are not those days.

Berlin has been devoured by snow.   I walked home two nights ago in a slippery, frosty city and woke up to one that was blanketed in that precious, brief white fluff, the type that all too quickly changes (for the worse) in colour and texture.  Thick, premium snowflakes tumbled in slow motion from the soft gray above.  These days do not come often, and they do not last long.

These days, bananas should be fried.

while I’m offering unsolicited advice, I would also add that :
*jackets should be thick
*hair should NOT be wet
*socks should be wool
*those bananas should be eaten with beans before facing the world outside

I can’t remember when I first tried Gallo Pinto, or frankly, why I don’t make it more often, but basically all you need to do is warm up some cooked black beans and rice with the thick, savoury broth from cooking the beans and some fried onions and cilantro, gently fry some bananas in butter, and serve.  You could, if you wanted, add some cumin or tomato paste or turmeric or chopped jalapeño to the beans and rice.  You could, too, add some maple syrup and flaked salt to the bananas as they caramelize.  There would be nothing wrong with that.   But there is something perfectly comforting about the salt-and-pepper simplicity of this dish that I prefer just as is.

Gallo Pinto with Fried Bananas

serves 4

notes:
Although the texture of cooked dried beans is nicer here, canned beans would work too – just keep the liquid from the can.
I used long grain brown rice, but basically any type of rice would work, leftovers included.

3 cups cooked rice
4 cups cooked black beans, drained but with cooking liquid reserved ( rice, leftovers included, would work)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

4 bananas, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise

a few pats of butter (or coconut oil)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the onions, stirring every so often to prevent sticking until onion becomes translucent, 5-7 minutes.  Add half of the cilantro and season with some salt and pepper.  Cook until the cilantro softens and becomes fragrant, then add the cooked rice and beans.  add about 1 cup of bean broth and let everything cook until the liquid is soaked up.  Keep adding liquid one cup at a time as necessary – you want a texture that isn’t quite mushy, but is dancing in that direction.  If you run out of bean broth, use water instead.  Once the beans and rice are hot and have reached desired softness, remove from heat and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt about 2 tablespoons of butter.   Once the butter is hot and starts to smell like butter, add the banans face down, and let them cook until slightly caramelised.  It should take a few minutes, but you will need to lift a bit of banana to peek under and check progress.   Then, gently flip the bananas to caramelise on the other side.  (They will be quite soft, so if you want them to stay whole, be careful with this step.   Of course, they will taste just as good if they break apart, though, so don’t worry too much.)  If all 8 banana slices don’t comfortably fit in your pan at once, simply fry half at a time and repeat as need.

To serve, divide the beans and rice between four plates, place 2 slices of banana on each bean mountain and sprinkle with the rest of the cilantro.

commited to pickles

December 4, 2012  |  Food, Travel  |  , ,  |  2 Comments

Tucked into a lush, green corner of the German province of Brandenburg, just an hour outside of Berlin on the train, there is a web of canals called Spreewald.

Spreewald.

It is a place I might well have dreamed up.  A place commited to pickles.

Arriving to the town of Lübbenau, you will be pleasantly charmed by many things.  There is a castle, and there is a small town square full of stands selling  pickles.  Some bread, some beer, and some pastries too, but mostly pickles.  On the canals, there are boats full of comfortably seated passengers admiring the forests and towns they are slowly floating through as they are paddled by someone standing at the back of the boat, not unlike a Venetian gondolier.  There is even a pickle museum, a rickety wood hut full of dresses and beds, with walls covered in recipes for a dozen different kinds of pickles and one for pickle soup.

That is all very nice. I mean really, very nice.  But what really made my head spin in Spreewald was something we found after getting lost on the water.

If you ever find yourself in Spreewald and you too are a pickle lover, I suggest you rent a kayak; then, paddle slowly through the tiny canals that lace through the edge of the town, and with a bit more muscle and gusto as you reach the wider passages that curve through the quiet forests.  As you get deeper in, further away from any buidlings and any sounds not originating from a bird or the water (or your cell phone), you will run across the occasional sign like the one pictured above.  In your kayak, you might find a map like the one pictured below.

Still, in all likelihood,  as you paddle yourself deeper into the swamp-like nowhere and soak up all the green with your city eyes, you will get utterly lost.  And, with any luck, you will stumble upon the gold, the source of the aforementioned head-spinning, a place of worship for those who pray to the gods of vinegar. If you were in Cancun, you might swim up to something similar in a neon bikini and order a piña colada.  But here, you are wearing flannel, and you maneuver your kayak as best as you can to slowly dock against a small shack floating on the edge of a canal and order a paper plate full of pickles.  Pickled cucumber in all shapes and inclinations, be it dill, garlic, mustard, onion, or black pepper.  Pickled red peppers, pickled cauliflower, and if you are to believe your eyes and taste buds, pickle-scented beer (very sweet and vaguely hinting at the taste of pickle brine, we were told that this beer was for the ladies).

I came back from Spreewald with a good supply of pickles and high hopes of trying some of the recipes from the pickle museum.  But in Berlin, you can buy Spreewald pickles almost anywhere you can buy milk.  They are excellent, superior pickles, crispy and not as excessively sweet as most of the supermarket pickles I’ve tried here, and I am at my most content when my fridge is full of them.  But when I get to pickling myself, I usually end up keen to try something new, something non-cucumber and something I haven’t tasted before.  So, while I can’t vouch for the salty pickle recipe photographed above, I can sing a sour song about the recipes below, black pepper pickled fennel and orange, pickled grapes with mustard seed, and tumeric brightened zuchinni pickles, each unusual and versatile in their own way.

These three recipes use the same general method, but their flavours and textures are wildly different.  If it’s a vegetable, you salt it to bring out the water.  Then, in a medium saucepan, you heat the vinegar with sugar and spices until it comes to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for a few minutes.  Let the brine cool down until it’s just warm (if it’s too hot, it will cook whatever it’s being poured on, and some crispness will be lost).  Pour the warm brine over the soon-to-be pickles, then scoop into clean jars and let sit overnight to pickle.  Then, dig in.

These pickles will all keep for a few months in the fridge, and will get stronger as time passes.  I find them best within the first week.

yield : about 2 pints

Black Pepper Pickled Fennel with Orange
adapted from here and here

2 large fennel bulbs, washed, trimmed and sliced thin (about 2cm)
2 tablespoons salt
1 orange, thoroughly washed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar

In a large bowl, toss the fennel with the salt.  Add very cold water to cover the fenel, just barely.  Let it sit for an hour, rinse, drain, and thoroughly dry the fennel and the bowl.  Cut the orange into quaters and then slice thinly.  Add them to the bowl with the fennel and proceed with the brine as described above.

Zuchinni Pickles
from Judy Rogers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook

1 pound zucchini (medium-smallish), trimmed and sliced very thin (about 1 cm)

1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced very thin
3 tablespoons salt
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 scant cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard (I often use a spicy yellow wet mustard if I don’t have dry mustard handy)
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

In a large bowl, toss onion and zuchinni with salt.  Add very cold water to cover the vegetables, just barely.  Let it sit for an hour, rinse, drain, and thoroughly dry the vegetables and the bowl.  Proceed with the brine as described above.

Pickled Grapes
From Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life

1 pound red or black grapes, preferably seedless
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons brown mustard seends
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 (2 1/2-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse and dry the grapes, then gently remove them from the stems and trim off what Molly refers to as the ‘belly buttons’ to expose a bit of the grape’s flesh.  Put them in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.  Proceed with the brine as described above.

homemade hoisin sauce and spicy green beans

August 26, 2012  |  Food  |  ,  |  1 Comment

I’m here, on this long-forgotten blog, to talk about hoisin sauce.  My hope is that I don’t forget about this stuff.  I mean, I know I won’t forget about hoisin sauce itself, but I hope I don’t forget how to make it.

When I updated this blog more regularly, it was nice having a place to check back on things I liked, a place where I knew I’d stashed a few things I found particularly stash-worthy.

I miss that.

And, when I tasted this sauce today and realized I had finally nailed it, I thought it might be good to stash it here.

I don’t generally buy too many condiments, since many of them are so full of sugar and preservatives – I find that I am a better person when I avoid keeping that sort of thing in my fridge.  But hoisin sauce is something I’ve always made an exception for. The sticky dark sauce that masterfully balances supersweet with addictively salty is something I really like having around.  It’s fantastic in stir-fries or mixed into soups, I like it on most sandwiches, and I love dipping slices of cucumber or radish in it.  My favorite way to use hoisin sauce is in a szechuan style spicy green bean dish, something I would always order at dim-sum restaurants in Vancouver and have now, due to circumstance and geography, started making myself.

Amazingly, hoisin sauce is so simple (and much healthier) to make at home.  I guess this recipe, accordingly to my condiment logic, makes me a better person.  Basically, you tear up some soft dates, remove their pits, and then put them in a bowl with chopped ginger and garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.

Then you puree it all until you’re left with is a smooth paste that is entirely un-photogentic.  But taste the stuff now.  I think you’ll agree that its looks are forgivable.

Homemade Hoisin Sauce

Note: I played around a bit until I got to this recipe, and along the way I tried using maple syrup and honey instead of the dates and peanut butter instead of the tahini.  This recipe below is the version I liked best, but if you don’t have dates or tahini on hand, the other versions were also absolutely worthwile.  I’d suggest about 1 1/2 tablespoons of  honey or maple syrup and I’m sure whichever nut butter you prefer would work well here too.

5 large dates, pitted and torn into small pieces
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 piece of ginger, about the size of the garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons tahini (thinned slightly with water if needed – it should be just barely runny)
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of rice vinegar
a few drops of sesame oil

1. Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor.

Spicy Green Beans

serves 1 as a main, or 2 as a side dish

1/3 cup hoisin sauce (recipe above)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 – 1 1/2 tablespoons sambal oelek (I would start with 1/2 and try it, then adjust to your preference)
1 large clove garlic, chopped
a piece of ginger about twice the size of a garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon each toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes (garnish)

1. Mix the hoisin sauce with the soy sauce, vinegar, and sambal oelek and set aside.

2. On medium-high heat, heat the canola oil in a large wok or frying pan with a lid. Once the oil gets hot, add the garlic and stir for a minute or so until it becomes fragrant.  Add the ginger and stir for another minute or so before adding the green beans. Toss the beans around until they are coated in oil.

3. Cover with the lid and let sit for about 10 minutes, stirring once after a few minutes, until the bean are blistered and blackened in some areas.

4. Pour the sauce into the pan and toss to coat.  Let it cook for a few minutes until the sauce is warmed and slightly thickened.

5. Serve warm, garnished with sesame seeds and red pepper flakes.

halva ice cream and enjoying the road

May 28, 2011  |  Food, Travel  |  , ,  |  6 Comments

Looking through photos from the few weeks I just spent in Israel, I noticed a good chunk of them were taken on the road.  Photos taken out the window of the passenger seat of my friend’s little car as we zipped up and down and across that fascinating little country.

I have more photos from the drive up north through green rolling hills than of camping on the Sea of Galilee when we got there and more photos of the curvy desert road down 400m below sea level than of the Dead Sea itself.

I took a photos somewhere near the Lebanese border where we pulled over for a picnic before the driving back to Tel Aviv, but none of the hike we were driving back from.

Albums from other trips are overtaken by fluffy cloud formations admired on a flight or the reflection in the windshield of my feet resting on a dashboard. When I’m travelling, its so easy to see that the getting there is half the fun, that the sights on the road are often as beautiful as the destination and that every moment is worth appreciating in some way or another.

Back home, I find this feeling too easily slips away if I don’t make an effort to hold on to it, to stop focusing on where I will end up for long enough to enjoy the moment.  The last few weeks have found me particularly caught up in planning and thinking, so much so that I’ve started to forget to enjoy where I am right now.  I am in one of my favourite cities and knee deep in one the best seasons but can’t help but lose my thoughts to details of what lies ahead.  Bright red strawberries and green and white stalks of asparagus overflow out of the market stalls, and I no longer get weird looks for wearing sandals well before sandal season.  Sandal season is here (!!). Sunscreen, bare legs, and ice cream season too.  And as much as I am a believer in planning, to-do listing, thinking ahead and getting excited about the future, I am also a believer of the importance of putting all worries of where you are going and what you are doing on hold to allow space for thoughts of ice cream.  Ice cream has a very strong ability to tug a person back into there right-here-and-right-now.

I tried halva ice cream at a little gelateria on Ben Yehuda street in Tel Aviv after a day of relaxing + overheating + swimming at the beach.  Halva is a hard sesame based sweet from the middle east that I have never completely been a fan of.  It was often the only dessert on offer at family gatherings we would go to as kids, so I remember really trying to like the stuff.  The flavor is rich, nutty and delicious, but I never really enjoyed the rough, dry texture that left my mouth feeling strange after a few bites.  So I was intruigued when I saw it made into an ice cream, and delighted to find that it was all the flavour but none of the texture.

Back home I wanted to recreate the stuff, but decided to get the flavor by mixing honey with tahini, a paste of ground sesame, instead of buying prepackaged halva that is full of preservatives and sugar.

Halva Ice Cream

This ice cream is rich and nutty and though delicious, it’s definitely somewhat unusual tasting and less sweet than most ice creams.  So if you’re looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, this might not be your best bet (toasted marshmellow ice cream, on the other hand, would satisfy any and all cravings for sweetness).

Next time I might play around with adding a spoonful of roseflower water and some crushed walnuts or pistachios.  A swirl of chocolate would also be delicious.

3/4 c. tahini
1/2 c. honey
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 egg yolks
sugar to taste (I used about 2 tablespoons)

1. Pour tahini and honey into a saucepan and warm over medium heat. When small bubbles start to form,  allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat and slowly add milk and cream, stirring  until well combined.

2. To temper the egg yolks, put them in a small bowl.  Add a spoonful at a time of the tahini mixture, stirring constantly until you have added 5 spoonfuls.  Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and return to heat, gently cooking on medium-low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool – this should take about 45 minutes.

3. Give it a taste.  Add sugar accordingly, keeping in mind that things taste less sweet when they are frozen – so you’ll want to make it a little sweeter now than what you ultimately aim to end up with.

4.  If you have an ice cream maker transfer the mixture there and follow its directions. If not transfer the mixture to a container and place in the freezer.  Take out the container ever 45 minutes to an hour and mix it up with a spoon to break up any ice particles.  You will probably need to do this 2-4 times until the mixture has frozen completely.

5. Enjoy!

there is still time

December 24, 2010  |  Food  |  3 Comments

Last minue is certainly an understatement, but I can’t be the only one who is wondering where December went, nor the only one who quivers with fear at the thought of losing a limb (and my sanity) in one of the mosh pits they call Shopping Centres these days.

Sure, Christmas music has been jingling our speakers since late November, but no matter how early I get into the pre-holiday buzz, the holidays themselves somehow manage to sneak up and suprise me when I am least ready for them – both mentally and financially.  So last evening, while half-watching Forrest Gump dubbed in German on TV, I simmered, stirred and baked some treats.  The kind that help you avoid joining the frenzy at the mall, and keep your credit card safe and cozy in your wallet.  The kind you can pour into old pickle jars and give as gifts to people from several different generations.  The kind you can forget about for a few minutes when you need to turn to the TV to watch Jenny screaming, “Lauf Forrest, LAUF!”. And the kind that, hopefully, gets put in the belly, and not on some closet shelf to await a fate of Regift-tion.

They are also the kind of gifts that don’t give you a guilty feeling when you apply the one for me, one for you rule, because heck, you made them.  And who doesn’t like that rule?

The idea for this Chai Tea Concentrate is from Angry Chicken. I was blown away by how simple and clever it is, and the littlest jar has already found a safe home in our fridge.   You simply add two heaping teaspoons to a cup of hot black tea whenever you want a creamy, spicy and sweet cup of chai.

1 14 ounce can of concentrated milk
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pour the condensed milk into a glass jar.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Make a label explaining how to use, and instructing to keep refridgerated.  It should last for 6 months.  (I used brown craft paper and masking tape).

This barbeque sauce is tangy, sweet and hot, and tastes all kinds of North American to me.  I drew a chicken drumstick on the label because a steak is a little harder to convey, but in my books this stuff tastes great with a Mac and Cheese, grilled vegetables, seafood, and almost anything else you would eat for dinner.   After making the base sauce, I played around with the other ingredients until I ended up with something I liked, and I was suprised how easy this stuff is to make.

4 c. worth of canned, whole tomatoes in their juice
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. orange juice
2 tbsp. hot mustard
ginger, to taste
black pepper, chili pepper flakes, salt, to taste
thai sweet chilli sauce, to taste

Bring all measured ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan, and then lower the heat to simmer until reduced to desired thickness, about 1 hour.  Pour into the blender and whizz until completely smooth.  Return to saucepan on low heat.

Add other ingredients as desired, tasting and re-tasting until you end up with something that tastes right to you.  Simmer for about half an hour so all the flavours meld.

While sauce is still hot, pour into sterilized jars and put the lids on right away.

Make labels with instructions that once opened, sauce should be refridgerated and will keep for a month.

I also made this fudge (with almonds and dried apricots) and these cookies, and was sort of planning on layering them with the same brown paper in mason jars, but sadly they have already been consumed.  Either way, they are excellent and simple recipes which I recommend.

this just can’t be summer love

July 19, 2010  |  Food  |  1 Comment

Marcel’s photos from the Summer Night Market in Richmond.  Yet another reason to love Vancouver.

vodkamelon

July 13, 2010  |  Food  |  , , ,  |  1 Comment

We spent approximately all of last Sunday eating.  That’s what picnics are all about, right?  They’re an excuse for exactly such behavior.  We grazed on freshly baked breads, beet salad, fresh fruit, little balls of saffron risotto, eggplant spread, the smoothest goat cheese I’ve ever seen, salmon ceviche, and berries drizzled with heavy cream.  We drank Pimm’s and we swam in the ocean with full bellies, without waiting anything close to half an hour.  We were feeling all kinds of rebellious.  We even snacked on a watermelon soaked with vodka.

My curiosity for vodka infused watermelon was first piqued back when I saw Can’t Hardly Wait (skip ahead to 00:52) (seven bottles… really?) (was that TWELVE years ago!?).

Twelve years later, apparently, I found an actual recipe for the spiked fruit, in Jamie Oliver’s book The Naked Chef Takes Off.

In Jamie’s always charming words, “Great for a barbie or party.  Wish I’d known about this when I was going to school parties – I could have walked in with my watermelon and got all my mates completely sloshed!”.  As if Jamie hasn’t already inspired us enough. (If you haven’t seen his TED talk, it’s more than worth twenty minutes of your time).

We didn’t exactly get completely sloshed, but it is a fun little party trick.

Jamie Oliver’s Watermelon Vodka

-1 large ripe Watermelon
-26 oz. bottle of Voka

Jamie suggests sticking a funnel into a hole you cut into the watermelon and pouring vodka into that, but we just poured vodka directly into the melon, as shown below.   Basically, you pour in as much vodka as you can, wait for it to absorb, and then pour again after about eight hours.  Three days later, you have a cocktail in a fruit’s body.

He also suggest trying it with champagne, which sounds excellent.

ice cream s’more fondue

July 9, 2010  |  Food  |  , , , ,  |  3 Comments

My boyfriend came to Canada by way of Germany.

Since we’ve been together, the differences in our passports have meant several important things.

It has meant that the more difficult, anxiety ridden times in our relationship have been caused mostly by things like Immigration laws. Visas. Customs Officers. Paperwork. Things that sometimes bite you in the bum, when you least expect it.  Not fun things, not fun things at all.

Also, it has meant that our bank accounts have taken on the blows that come from the costs associated with trans-Atlantic flights being purchased, just to see each other.

It has meant that at family gatherings, his, the tables are covered with an astounding variety of German cakes, and I have learned that each and every one of them goes well with a glass of sekt. And that at family gatherings, mine, he has been introduced to the popular local phenomenon of all-you-can-eat-sushi.  And he has proven that all-he-can-eat is really a lot.

It means that he is very appreciative of this vast land our country enjoys, and jumps at every chance to explore our great outdoors.  It means that his jaw drops every time we are somewhere you can see the ocean and the mountains at the same time, which is many places in Vancouver, and is wonderful.

It means he is very fun to go camping with.

And, speaking of which, it meant that, until a few weeks ago, he had no idea what a S’more was.

I explained to him that a S’more is a melty combination of graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate.  But I wanted more to say.  Because in our little North American raised hearts, a S’more really is something more.  As much melted nostalgia as deliciousness.

A few weeks ago my friend had us over for dinner.  And she made S’mores for dessert. Using Triscuit crackers. And a microwave.  It sounds kinda strange, but it wasn’t. They were delicious, and a very reasonable introduction to the North American campfire delicacy.

When we went camping, we made them with Nutella; also a fine sub-category of the S’more.

Last week, I wanted to use up the remaining graham crackers, and ended up with these ‘Ice Cream S’more Fondue Sandwiches’.  From the name, it does sound like four different foods.  But it is one. And it is good.

Soft and gently spicy graham crackers hugging creamy, toasted marshmallow ice cream and dipped into warm, melted dark chocolate made rich and creamy with butter, they taste kind of like laughter, if laughter were a flavor.

So technically I still haven’t introduced my boyfriend to the classic S’more.  I guess my work is still cut out for me.

For me the real star of this recipe is the ice cream.  Making the sandwiches and fondue is fun and pretty straightforward, but it is a little more labor intensive than, say, not making the sandwiches and fondue. The ice cream itself is simple, easy to serve, and really outstanding.  It is one of those things where the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts – something sort of magical happens when melted marshmallows are tucked into fatty dairy products. More creamy than I can describe, with a warm, toasty flavor, the taste is simple but very indulgent.

I imagine milkshake nirvana would be easily achieved via toasted marshmallow ice cream, and as somewhat of a milkshake aficionado, I think I might be the right person to test out this theory.

Recipe

I cup milk
I cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks
200g marshmallows

Package of graham crackers*

200g dark chocolate
75g butter

*The ones I used were from Trader Joe’s. They are coated in sugar and very lovely.  Best of all, somehow Trader Joe’s manages to convince that everything they sell is completely healthy.  Even cookies.

For the Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream:

Preheat oven to 400

Spread marshmallows on foil, on a baking tray, and put them in the oven until they are gently browned.  This should take around 10 minutes, so keep an eye on them!

Meanwhile, in a medium sized saucepan, heat the milk and cream together until the mixture just begins to simmer.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour about ½ cup of the hot milk to the bowl, stirring all the time, to temper the eggs.  Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan.

Once the marshmallows are browned, you should act relatively quickly, as they harden fast. Using a spatula, place all the marshmallows into the saucepan, and stir until the marshmallows are mostly integrated.

Allow the mixture to cool at room temperate (will take about a half hour).

Cover, and put in the freezer.  Still every hour or so for about 3 hours, until the ice cream is solid enough to hold its shape.

For the Sandwiches & Fondue:

Spoon desired amount of ice cream onto one cracker, then sandwich another one on top.  Put them in the freezer until you’re ready to serve.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the chocolate with the butter over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Serve with ice cream sandwiches while chocolate is still warm, preferably to people with whom you don’t mind double dipping.

for the love of dried apricots

June 10, 2010  |  Food  |  , , , ,  |  8 Comments

Although a fresh, ripe apricot is one of my favorite things to bite into, I never get too excited about their dried counterpart.  On their own, they don’t really do anything for me. Tucked into a scone, dipped in dark chocolate, or hidden in trail mix, I wouldn’t necessarily avoid them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to introduce them to my taste buds, either.

Unfortunately, apricot season is very brief.  Over here, the fruit is only soft,  vibrantly flavored, and juicy enough to guarantee messy eating for a brief spell towards the end of summer.  Apparently the trees are very sensitive and, according to Wikipedia :  ”The fact that apricot season is very short has given rise to the very common Egyptian Arabic expression “filmishmish” (“in apricot [season]“), generally uttered as a riposte to an unlikely prediction, or as a rash promise to fulfill a request.”  You know, like, sure, I’ll stop eating these! In apricot season!

When I read this recipe, in this book, I was immediately interested in the possibility of soaking a little life into the wrinkly dried creature as I patiently wait for the real deal to come into season.  The idea of infusing them with the delicate flavor or orange blossom and stuffing them with cream had me sold.

This is a Turkish recipe, and is relatively simple to prepare.  You poach the apricots in a simple syrup with orange blossom water, let them cool, and then tuck little spoonfuls of Kaymak, a middle eastern clotted cream, into their bellies.  My only complaint is that the book has no recipe for Kaymak, and the ones I found online involved simmering buffalo milk for upwards of eight hours.  I decided to make a regular clotted cream, and chose a recipe that used whipping cream and sour cream.  The cream itself turned out tasty, but if you have a preferred way of clotting your cream, by all means, clot that way.  I also have no idea if this substitution in creams made the flavors less authentic.

Either way, this dessert is really a nice way to make a dried fruit shine.  Sweet and very fruity, explosively juicy and exotically perfumed, it would make a nice light finish to a meal, or a great snack.

Kaymakli Kayisi – Apricots filled with clotted cream
Adapted from The Middle Easter Kitchen, by Ghillie Basan
(She says it serves 6.  What is this? A recipe for ants? Two of us ate these within a few hours.

225g dried apricots, soaked at least 6 hours or overnight in about 2 cups of water
175g sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
clotted cream (recipe follows)

fresh mint leaves, for serving (optional)

Drain the apricots, reserving the soaking water.  Put the water into a heavy-bottomed pan with the sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Lower the temperature to let the water simmer, and add the apricots and orange blossom water.

Poach the apricots for about twenty minutes, then take them off the heat and let them cool in the water.  Drain the apricots, but hang on to the liquid! *

When the apricots are cool, gently open them, tuck in a small spoonful of clotted cream, and fold them back up again.  If you like, place them on a plate covered with fresh mint leaves.   I find the flavors contrast really nicely. You can also spoon a bit of the poaching liquid onto the apricots for a little extra juicy- and sweet-ness.

to make the clotted cream:
Whip 1/2 cup of whipping cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract until it forms very stiff peaks.  Mix in about 1/3 cup sour cream.  Refrigerate for at least 30 mins before using, to let the flavors mix.

* This stuff is like liquid gold.  Sweet, apricot flavored, liquid gold.  You can drink it on its own, or add a little soda water and pour it over ice. I mixed mine with a little honey and a pot of black tea, and refrigerated it to make a really refreshing and iced tea, infused with ‘flavors of the orient’.