Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A La Dad

For the most part the meals of my childhood were made by my mom. I have the utmost respect for her because of this. She nearly always cooked from scratch, blessedly avoiding the prepackaged, Hamburger Helper-esque meals that most of my friends were eating. She also managed to put up with my sister and me who were woefully picky as children. We were more content to eat frozen par-cooked tortellini than real food (I still do this, though no longer in stead of a meal). Despite what I may have avoided eating as a child, I credit my mom for passing on her love of food. Now it's the two of us rolling our eyes at the picky eating habits of my sister, and sometimes my dad, rather than her attempting to find something to feed her children at which they won't turn up their noses.

Although she did a lot of the cooking there were certain things that were specifically a la dad if you will. He is particularly gifted at making grilled cheese sandwiches and Kraft dinner, which may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but for the longest time I wouldn't eat either of those things unless they'd been made by my dad. This used to irk my mom. After all, it's just Kraft Dinner. But he always makes the cheese sauce to just the right consistency and always manages to crisp up a grilled cheese sandwich perfectly without burning it. I still haven't mastered the grilled cheese sandwich. I always burn at least one side of it. Always. I think I'm too easily distracted.

He also used to make this concoction involving chicken, mushroom soup, and rice. I used to love this dish. The rice mixed up with the soup and the chicken and baked into a casserole type thing. The thought of it alone is now enough to trigger my gag reflex. Even just writing about it has made me slightly nauseous. I actually think my dad's love of mushroom soup, whether eaten as soup or baked on top of toast, is the reason that I can't even stand to look at it anymore. I simply ate it too much (though never on toast, I'm happy to say).

I just realized I'm making it sound like he's not a very good cook, which is inaccurate. He's great on the barbecue. Summer is full of food a la dad. Sliced potatoes with rosemary, delicious shrimp, chicken kebabs. And on the stove top he can fry up some mean bacon (another thing I much prefer when cooked by my dad). But if there's one item of food he has changed irrevocably for me it's scrambled eggs. I know scrambled eggs sound kind of boring. You can't step into a decent breakfast joint in North America without encountering scrambled eggs, but he does them differently. They contain the magical, if somewhat humble, ingredient of Cheez Whiz. Yes, it is decidedly un-gourmet, and processed beyond the point of meriting the title "cheese", but these are delicious eggs.

For the longest time my sister and I were under the impression that this was how all scrambled eggs were made. The Cheez Whiz was a given, as are many things that you encounter as a child until you find something different. Needless to say, my sister and I were being set up for great disappointment. I don't remember where we were exactly, I think out for Sunday brunch, when we had our first encounter with non-Dad scrambled eggs. We rushed up to the eggs with our plates and piled them on, such was the excitement that scrambled eggs inspired. Then we put a forkful in our mouths. It was a horrible experience. Like getting salt when you're expecting sugar. Except we were expecting cheesy and moist where we got bland and dry. When we asked what was wrong with them my dad replied simply that there was no Cheez Whiz in them. We responded with blank stares. We also never got scrambled eggs at brunch again.

Some people find this strange, even repulsive. I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of Cheez Whiz. It's a vibrant orange 'cheese' spread that doesn't even really taste like cheese, enough said. In my scrambled eggs is the only place I'll consume it. But to this day it's also the only way I'll eat scrambled eggs. Even when I make them this way myself they don't turn out quite the way my dad makes them. That could be all in my head, but I think they're like the Kraft Dinner and grilled cheese sandwich. He just has a special touch that makes them perfect.

Scrambled Eggs A La Dad

2 eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp Cheez Whiz

Whisk together the eggs and milk and pour into a heated, buttered pan. Cook the eggs until they start to solidify. Add the Cheez Whiz and stir to melt and mix evenly with the eggs.
Feel free to add more Cheez Whiz if desired. Of course you could also add less, but I think it would rather defeat the purpose of including it in the first place.

Serve on toast, or an English muffin (as I did this morning), or just by themselves if you so desire. Really anything bready will work fabulously. Sometimes my dad will throw on some ketchup, though I'm not sure I can, in good conscience, recommend this. But, to each his own. Enjoy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Surplus of Food

This weekend my parents are going to Newfoundland. I am exceedingly jealous. I've wanted to go to Newfoundland for ages. Not only do they get to visit this beautiful province, a province with icebergs and old viking settlements, rife with its own unique culture and traditions, they get to go to something called a 'kitchen party.' I'm not really sure what this is, though they did explain it to me, but as far as I'm concerned any party that involves being in the kitchen is a good thing. Nothing but good food could abound.

Jealousy aside, they left me their surplus of perishable foods. Which leads me to today's subject: roasted tomatoes. Ever since setting eyes on this month's cover of Saveur magazine, I've been seduced by the prospect of roasted tomatoes. And yesterday I found myself with four ripe, plump tomatoes. Generally I don't really like tomatoes, so I don't buy them. But something about those tomatoes, sitting there on the magazine cover, drizzled with olive oil, their skins split open to reveal the juicy red fruit beneath, surrounded by cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme. I was consumed by desire. I needed those tomatoes.

So today I popped them in the oven. There's not really a recipe to give you. I had four tomatoes, I put them in a pan with four whole cloves of garlic, drizzled them with a generous amount of olive oil, and seasoned them with a sprinkling of salt and herbes de provence. Then I roasted them in a 200F oven for 1 1/2 hours. The aroma was divine. It more than made up for the fact that the oven turned my apartment into a sauna.

I ate one of them with pasta and goat's cheese for dinner. It was delicious. The juices ran everywhere, sweet, offset by the salt and herbs, with just a subtle hint of garlic. The time in the oven alters them, deepens their flavour, transforms them from a humble fruit into something almost rich.

I am in love with roasted tomatoes. I am convinced that I could eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I may do just that. Breakfast: poached eggs on an English muffin topped with a roasted tomato. Lunch: Caesar salad topped with a chopped roasted tomato. Dinner: fried halibut with a puree of roast tomatoes. The goat's cheese pairs wonderfully with them, but I'll likely just eat the rest of them on their own. Reheat them in the oven and just dig in. But bread will be necessary for mopping up the excess juice. I can't let even one delicious drop go to waste.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Father's Day

My dad, generally, is not a dessert person. At least he says he's not. He'll eat it if it's served and if we go out for dinner, and someone orders dessert, he'll usually have a bite. As someone who is very much a dessert person, I don't quite understand this. The only reason I ever have for turning down dessert is that I've eaten too much dinner and fear that the consumption of any more food will result in my stomach exploding. As such, when planning a meal, I always think about dessert first.

So for father's day I couldn't very well not think about dessert. He may not be big on dessert, but he loves orange chocolate. I have a lovely recipe for lemon cheesecake mousse that I've used on several occasions so I decided it could be adapted with oranges and put in a chocolate tart.

It turned out beautifully. A lovely smooth, creamy orange mousse in a crumbly chocolate tart. I topped it with strawberries soaked in Grand Marnier, to both compliment and punch up the orange. Definitely a hit. It was delicious. So without further ado: the recipe.

Both recipes adapted from Anna Olson.

Orange Cheesecake Mousse with Strawberries and Grand Marnier

Chocolate Crust
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, chilled and cut in pieces
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Pulse nuts in food processor with sugar, flour, cocoa, and salt.
2. Add butter and pulse until crumbly
3. Add egg yolks and vanilla and pulse until it comes together.
4. Press into greased muffin tins, dock with a fork, and bake at 350F.

*If you don't have a food processor big enough to fit the whole recipe just grind up the almonds and mix it all together by hand. Rub in the butter with your fingers and then mash in the liquids with a fork.

Orange Cheesecake Mousse
3/4 cup whipping cream
6 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
dash of vanilla extract

2 cups strawberries, quartered
2 tbsp Grand Marnier

1. Whip cream to medium peaks and chill.
2. Toss strawberries in Grand Marnier and chill.
3. Beat cream cheese until smooth, beat in sugar and zest, then juice and vanilla.
4. Fold in cream in two additions.
5. Pipe or scoop into tart shells and garnish with strawberries.

Of course you can stick to Anna Olson's original recipe and use lemon rather than orange. Top with any berries you want. Blueberries would work well with lemon, as would blackberries. Raspberries would be nice with orange. Anything that takes your fancy really. I'm suddenly stuck by the idea of using passionfruit in the mousse...inspiration for next time!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I come to you today with a story of success and a story of, well, not failure, but definitely less than success. I'll start with the latter as it is more amusing and, for reasons that will soon be obvious, you won't be getting a recipe for it.

It was one of those days where I had very little in my fridge and I wanted to use up what I had before buying a bunch of new produce. I had a few scallions and that was pretty much it for the way of dinner. I figured I could make a fairly decent sauce using them. I could cook them out a bit, throw in some white wine, a dash of cream, and some fennel seeds just for interest. Easy.

I wanted chicken. But there were leftover fish fillets in my freezer so those went into the pan. I chopped the scallions and threw them in once the fish came out. I opened the fridge to grab the white wine. There was none. Odd, because there normally is. So I used water...yes, water. I figured the cream could redeem it. If only I'd had cream. Right. So milk it is. Then the fennel seeds. Needless to say it didn't work out so well. Yes, I had a sauce, but it's flavour was, well mostly of onions. Which incidentally I don't even like that much. It wasn't terrible, but I would never eat it again. This was very much a lesson in making sure I have ingredients before I start making something. Oh well. Live and learn.

But today I made a salad. A lovely salad. I had half a cucumber and an apple in the fridge so I figured I could make a half-way decent salad with a nice vinaigrette. It turned out so much better than I expected. Now this may be relative to the aforementioned near disaster, but I think you'll like it. It's light, fresh, and summery (as promised). Before beginning I did run down the road to the grocery store to grab some arugula. What resulted was a delightful combination of nutty arugula, sweet crisp apples, cucumber, pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette with mustard, tahini, and honey.

Arugula and Apple Salad with Honey and Mustard Vinaigrette

Handful of arugula
1 apple

1/2 cucumber
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp honey
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp tahini
pinch of cardamom

1. Cut the apple and cucumber into matchsticks. Toss in lemon juice. Arrange over arugula.
2. Combine ingredients for vinaigrette, whisking until smooth.
3. Drizzle over salad and top with pecans.
4. Enjoy!

Admittedly a salad is far more difficult to screw up than a fish sauce. But that's why I love salads. There is nothing wrong with simplicity and a salad is just that. There is almost always something hanging out in my fridge that could be turned into a salad. They beg for improvisation. So please play with this 'recipe.' Tweak the vinaigrette until it's exactly how you want it to taste. Use pear instead of apple...or Asian pear would be nice. The possibilities are truly endless. But this one's staying in my repertoire.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spiced Chocolate

I had trouble trying to decide what to write about for this entry. It's not that I don't have a lot to say, or that I don't have enough recipes I want to try. It's quite the opposite in fact, and therein lies my problem. Where do I start?

I was contemplating this dilemma at work yesterday when my manager, Jenn, offered me a chocolate chili cookie. One bite and I had my inspiration. Spicy chocolate. It was rich and chocolatey, with a hint of cinnamon hitting the front of my mouth first, subtle, almost not there. Then came the heat, gently biting the back of my tongue, dancing up the back of my throat. I groaned appreciatively and told her I was in love.

This was not the first time I've had chili in chocolate. In fact it's one of my favourite ways to eat chocolate. I love that you can't taste it initially. That the chocolate hits your palate first, rich and dark, slightly bitter. You don't notice the heat until after you swallow, and then it shows up slowly, prickling your tongue. And I love that the heat lingers after you've finished eating it. It hangs around in your mouth, reminding you of the delicious confection you've just eaten, begging for more. The Mayans certainly knew what they were doing when they spiced, rather than sweetened their chocolate.

Putting chili in chocolate is much more common than it used to be, which is wonderful because it means that it's now easier to find. Often it will be called Mexican chocolate. Due to the previous rarity of spiced chocolate my first experience with it was something that I made myself.

I had some friends over for a French inspired dinner and was flipping through Joanne Harris's cookbook The French Kitchen. For those who don't know, she also wrote Chocolat, which was later turned into a film. I eventually landed on a recipe for Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate, and though it's not really French, I decided to serve it instead of coffee at the end of the meal. I fell in love the moment it touched my lips. It was warm, and rich, and spicy. Hot chocolate for grown-ups, I decided. I don't think my friend Brianna was quite as enamored with it as I was. In any case, I will now never turn down spiced chocolate. Ever. It's too delicious. Too divine. Too utterly seductive to pass up.

On that note, here's Joanne Harris's recipe:

Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate
(Serves 2)

1 2/3 cups of milk
1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 hot red chili, halved and seeded
3 1/2 oz bittersweet (70%) chocolate, grated
Brown sugar to taste (optional)

1. In a saucepan combine milk, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chili. Bring to a simmer for one minute.
2. Whisk in chocolate until it melts.
3. Add brown sugar if desired. (Joanne Harris implores you to please try it without, and so do I)
4. Remove from heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes, then remove vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chili.
5. Return to heat, bring back to a simmer. Then serve topped with whipped cream and chocolate curls, or simply on its own.

I know this is really more of a wintry drink, but do try it. It's so good. My mind seems to be on winter recipes right now. First brandy snaps and now this. I promise my next one will be in season. Something fresh, crisp and light, and full of promise for a relaxing, breezy summer ahead.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


The title of this post actually has very little to do with what it will be about. Amandine was the original name I had picked out for this blog. Incidentally it was taken, so I was left to ponder other names. Eventually I fell on Brandy Snap. I love everything about brandy snaps. Their deep caramel flavour, their crisp crunchy texture, mingling with the subtle sweetness of whipped cream. But mostly I love the memories they recall. They are the epitome of everything I want this blog to be. Not just about food, but the traditions, rituals, and memories that go along with it.

For me, and probably for many of my family members, brandy snaps mean Christmas. I do realize it's the middle of June, so Christmas treats aren't exactly in season, but who says they can only be eaten at Christmas? Anyway, every Christmas, without fail, my grandmother makes brandy snaps. She strategically keeps them hidden away in tins until the dinner table has been cleared of the evening meal. There's always a bit of a gap between dinner and dessert at Christmas. We have to digest the turkey and work up our appetites again. Then she places the plate of brandy snaps on the table. They're gone in seconds. I don't think it's possible for them to hang around for more than a minute. My cousins and I tease each other, threatening to eat the others' precious treats.

To really give you an idea of the reverence in which we hold the brandy snap I'll give you a little anecdote. A couple years ago my cousin Natalie and I were bringing the tins of brandy snaps up to my grandmother to be filled with cream. We were, of course, joking around, acting as though we would steal the entire contents of the tins for ourselves, when she dropped one of them. Given the fragile nature of brandy snaps, they shattered. My grandmother took it in stride, but I thought Nat was going to cry. My grown up, adult cousin had a look on her face as though she'd ruined Christmas. Literally. She hadn't of course. Though there was a bit of a silent shock in the room. A momentary panic where we contemplated the horror of no brandy snaps. But the other tin was perfect and whole, so we filled those, took the broken bits and mixed them up with the left over whipped cream and turned it into a kind of caramelly Eton Mess.

Some members of my family will probably consider it base treachery that I'm about to give you this recipe. We have a funny thing about recipes. But upon discovering several other recipes floating around on the wide web that are nearly identical, and all curiously devoid of brandy, I don't feel too badly about it.

Grandma Bull's Brandy Snaps

3 tbsp golden syrup
3 oz butter
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup plain flour
pinch of salt

1. Place syrup, butter, and sugar in a saucepan and stir over low heat until butter melts. Remove from heat and add sifted flour, ginger, and salt. Mix together well.
2. For small brandy snaps use level teaspoonfuls, heaping teaspoonfuls for larger ones.
Drop onto lightly greased tray (or silpat lined if you happen to have one, silpats are a godsend for making these and various tuilles). Make sure to allow room for spread, there will be a lot of it.
3. Bake in moderate oven for 5 minutes, about three at a time, until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool about a minute.
4. Lift them off the tray one at a time and wrap around the handle of a wooden spoon. Allow to cool on the handle.
5. Fill with whipped cream right before serving.

Some notes:
*You can store the brandy snaps, unfilled, in air tight containers for some time (I'm pretty sure my grandmother keeps them around for at least a week).
*Once filled they will go soft and mushy within hours, so don't fill them until you're ready to serve them, otherwise they fall entirely short of their name by neither containing brandy nor having any snap.
*Once out of the oven they will harden quickly so you have to work fairly fast. Don't be discouraged if the first few don't work out. Practice makes perfect and you can always bake only one or two at a time until you get the hang of it. I think my grandmother can do about five or six at a time, but then she's been making them for years. If you find you get through two and the third has hardened up too much, throw it back in the oven just to warm it up and make it malleable again, but be careful not to burn it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Take Off!

Hello Fellow Foodies!

Okay, I've tried to start a blog several times now and every time I decide I don't like it, get cold feet, and delete the entire thing. So bear with me. Basically I need a place to write some things down whether they be recipes, exceptional food experiences, recommendations for lovely cookbooks, or what have you. This will be a collection of all of that and more.

I've been writing ever since I was a child and eating ever since I was, well since I was born, obviously. Recently I seem to have fallen out of my writing habit and I realized that I really miss it. So this will be my outlet. Also, I constantly find myself daunted by the prospect of cooking. Don't get me wrong. I love to cook. My problem is that I'm not particularly confident in that area. I can bake. Oh yes I can bake. But I can't very well live off of cupcakes and cookies for the rest of my life. So I'm hoping that that this blog will also serve as a motivator for trying some more challenging recipes. It is, of course, entirely possible that no one will ever read this. But I will write as though someone is nonetheless.

I love to write. I love to eat. It has taken a four year BA in English and one year into a Baking and Pastry Arts program for me to discover that I should combine the two. So here it goes. The start of a beautiful romance between food and words. We'll have to throw in some travel occasionally to spice things up. Time for take off! Wish me luck.