Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Have you noticed I enjoy lists? I have shared my recipe organization method (lists inside lists), and I have had lots of posts with lists of recipes featuring specific ingredients. Outside of the regular lists- grocery, to do- I have a few ongoing not-so-common lists. Currently in my Blackberry I have ready for a list of my lists?):

Kareoke You never know when you might find yourself at a kareoke bar needing that perfect song. Featuring Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt, Shania Twain.

Gifts I hate it when I think of a good gift for somebody and then forget what it was when Christmas/birthdays roll around. Problem solved.

Books Books I wants to read. Obviously.

Downloads Songs to download. I also hate when I hear a song on the radio then forget what it was when I get home. It took me weeks to finally remember to get "How Do you Like Me Now" by The Heavy. I then declared it the song of the summer last year.

LBCO Wines and drinks I want to check out at the liquor store.

Wines I Like I swear I don't have a problem.

I have had this cookie recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini saved in my browser favourites since April last year. I saved it to try because a) she called them Squeeze Cookies b) they are made with roasted flour. I have never heard of roasting flour. Clotilde writes, "Grilled notes of chocolate and hazelnut come through in every bite, the consistency is a fine crumbliness unlike that of any sablĂ© I know, and all that comes from a simple twenty-minute roasting step." Sold? Me too. It is quite amazing what roasting the flour does. The flour doesn't take on any colour in the oven, but the cookies come out tasting caramelized, nutty, and vanilla-y. Yet none of these things are in the cookies. 

To save time, rather than squeezing the dough into cookies (read the post on Chocolate and Zucchini to find out why you would do this), I pressed the dough into a square baking pan and made shortbread. I also love these cookies because there is only 6 tablespoons of butter in the recipe- usually shortbread calls for about a cup. Get thee to the kitchen and make these cookies today- I bet you have everything you need already, so no excuses.

Recipe: SQUEEZE COOKIES via Chocolate and Zucchini 

Two Years Ago: Easy Drop Biscuits

Thursday, November 17, 2011

France Part 1: Eating In

When I was 16, I spent three months on exchange in France. I didn't have a life changing food experience there, a la Julia Child. In the past 10 + years I have often said that I didn't have any amazing food. But like the simplest recipe, taken as a whole the food I had in France is more than the sum of it's parts. I have to work hard to remember any individual meals but lots of times a dish, promptly forgotten at the time, comes back to me at unexpectedly with a bite at a restaurant, a scene in a movie, a sentence in a book or magazine.

Today's post is about the home cooking I had in France. Part 2 will be about eating out, and we'll see what is left over in my memory bank for a part 3 perhaps.

I actually have two French families; the family I stayed with, and the family I was supposed to stay with. More on the latter in the next post. The family I stayed with, the Machpy's, were not foodies. I had, as we North Americans have of Europeans, the impression before going to France that even the most ordinary weekday meal is a gastronomic affair. Not so. Like us, weekday meals were not gourmet, they fed their three kids (four, with me)something quick, simple, nutrious. Sometimes it was something the kids liked- fries night comes to mind- and sometimes it wasn't, like spinach night.

Photo Credit
 Of all the home cooked meals I can remember, spinach night is the brightest in my mind. Dinner was always eaten at the big farmhouse table in the den/dining room, rather than in the kitchen where we ate breakfast and lunch. Put in front of us at that big, rustic table was a big, rustic plate of boiled spinach topped with a fried egg. I think I had only been there about a month, so I didn't want to be rude. I don't think I had ever eaten spinach before, let alone an entire meal of it. I took a bite and tried not to make a face. Then I proceeded to eat it all without chewing much, rationing the egg to ensure there was some in every bite, to take the edge off the greenness of it all. I was the first one finished. The kids still hadn't taken more than three bites, they were complaining about having to eat it. "Look, Amy finished all of hers. Now you eat yours too". I mouthed "sorry" to them, but of course they didn't understand.

There was always a baguette with dinner- this cliche actually turned out to be reality. After dinner was always yogurt and cheese. They would pull this plastic Tupperware bin of different cheeses wrapped in paper out of the fridge and that, with the yogurt and some more bread, was dessert. I have no idea what type of cheeses I was eating, but lots were stinky and all delicious. I blame that, the bread, and the delicious butter, on my 15 pound weight gain.

I had to go to high school in France. I think I was the only exchange student in the history of the school, and they didn't know what to do with me. I had school work from back home to do so that I didn't have to redo the whole semester I was away, so at first I worked on this during class since there was no requirement to get any marks at French school. The teachers didn't like this and there was a call to my French family and there after I had to pay attention and take notes like everyone else. High school there is more a lecture- more like what we do in university here. Although my notes were frequently non-sensical as I was trying to write down what the teacher was saying (the French classes we take all through school in Canada are almost useless when faced with a fast-talking lecturer on biology), I probably picked up a lot of language that way.

The teachers all must have thought I was really stupid, in particular the chemistry teacher. The material was advanced of what we were learning back home. I was pretty good at science normally, but the periodical table is different in French (I thought it was in Latin and therefore the same everywhere, but not so). To add to my embarrassment that I couldn't answer even one question on the exam although yes, Mr Teacher I do study chemistry back home, the teacher was smoking hot.

I don't know why I just gave you a big long story about school because all I have to say about the food is that you got a hot meal every day, and every day it was bad. Except, again, fries day. I think it was actually fish and chips, but the lunch lady would give you just the chips if you asked. It is also this day that I learned from my girlfriends that the French don't call them "French fries" because they were actually invented by the Belgians (les Belges). So they say. Wikipedia says so too.

Wednesdays school was only a half day, so we had lunch at home. This sounds too good to be true, right? Right you are. We also had to go to school on Saturday for a half day. Lunch at home was always, as far as I can remember, mystery meat in puff pastry and then pasta. I asked once what the meat was. I understood it as rabbit, so from then on it was another meal that I swallowed without chewing. The pasta they still managed to make very french. No tomato sauce here. I don't know if this is common or not, but they ate it (perhaps it was just the kids actually) with creme fraiche, Gruyere cheese, and ketchup. This is surprisingly delicious and I still eat pasta this way sometimes, substituting sour cream for creme fraiche. Come to think of it, creme fraiche should also have a place of honour on the list of Food That Made Me Fat in France.

Photo Credit

Breakfast. We're working backwards here, aren't we? Breakfast was always left over baguette with butter (and the dad and I put maple syrup on it too) dipped in a bowl- similar to above- of hot chocolate. The baguette from the night before was kept in a tall bread bin, so in the morning you'd reach in and find a hard end of bread, so the hot chocolate was actually a necessity rather than an indulgence. I suppose in other families the hot chocolate might be subbed for coffee, but my family didn't drink coffee that I recall. Or wine, except when company was over. Red wine every night and even the kids having a tumbler of watered down wine is one cliche that turned out not to be true, to my chagrin.

Photo Credit
 There are two exceptional things I ate in the home of the Machpy's that stand out in my mind. The first weekend I was there, we went on a picnic with another family. Lunch was thickly sliced ham and cold butter on a baguette (baguette jamon). There might have been a schmear of Dijon mustard, I can't be sure. This might have been the best sandwich I have ever eaten.

The other is a chocolate birthday cake. I think we had this twice while I was there. It is not the mile high, layered and frosting-ed North American birthday cake. French birthday cake is fudgy, fallen a little in the middle and crackly on top- like the top of a good brownie. There is no icing. The cake itself is bitter-sweet, like dark chocolate. Whereas I bake cakes and cookies and all manner of baked good for no reason at all, the Machpys only had this cake if it's someone's birthday. I wish I had Mrs. Machpy's recipe, but I have the third best thing (the second best thing being another French aquiantance's recipe)- I Googled "French Chocolate Cake". I ate a slice last night and this recipe is pretty close to what I remember. I also had some for breakfast today. And it's not even my birthday.

When beating egg whites the bowl and the tools you use for mixing must be totally clean and grease-free. Wipe down tools with a little vinegar, then rinse and dry to be sure everything is clean. Otherwise your egg whites won't whip. Cream of tartar helps to stabilize the egg whites, if you don't have any it can be omitted. A standard round cake pan can be used in place of a springform pan.

  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 10 oz dark chocolate
  • 3/4 cup salted butter, cubed
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 egg, seperated
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • dash cream of tartar (optional)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F with rack in middle of oven. Generously grease a 9 1/2-inch springform pan and dust with a little sugar, tapping out the excess.

Set aside 3 tbsp of sugar. Place the remaining sugar, chocolate, and butter in a micowave safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat 1 minute at a time until chocolate is almost melted. Stir to finish melting the chocolate. Stir in vanilla, set mixture aside to cool slightly.

Beat the egg whites in a very clean, grease free bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar, if using, and whip until soft peaks form. Add reserved sugar, whip until stiff peaks form (see photo following recipe). Set aside.

Beat yolks into chocolate mixture one at a time. Stir in flour and lemon juice. Add 1/3 of egg whites to chocolate mixture, stir to combine. Add the remaining egg whites and fold until batter is a uniform colour. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake on a rack, removing the sides of the springform pan. Cool completely before removing the base. If using a standard cake pan, remove cake from pan only after cooled. 

Egg whites beaten to stiff peaks

Monday, November 14, 2011

Homemade Chicken Stock

Photo credit The Art of Doing Stuff
I was going to write a post about making chicken stock. But somebody else did it for me. Karen over at The Art of Doing Stuff makes stock exactly the way I do- up to and including measuring it into baggies and freezing it flat. So... read her post but remember I am also a genius cause I do it the same way.

Why would you make your own stock? Because it tastes better, you can use up scraps that would normally go in the garbage, and it's cheaper. Do you need any more reasons? How about it's easy and healthier because you control the salt and ingredients. And you will impress your friends because making homemade stock sounds chef-y but it's a matter of bringing some kitchen scraps to a boil, simmering for a while, then letting it cool. Easy.

Homemade Chicken Stock at The Art of Doing Stuff

Two Years Ago: Hawai'i 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween Wreath

I know it's a bit late but perhaps you can file this away for next year. I made this wreath in 20 minutes the day of Halloween, otherwise I would have posted it before.

I tend to not get excited about Halloween until the day of, then I stress that I have nothing cool. For the holiday. I also sometimes stress that I have nothing cool in general... but that is another post for another day (or not).

I made this wreath with dead stuff I cleared out of my garden on the weekend. Except for the skulls. Those are not from the garden.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chinese Five Spice Powder

I have been using Chinese five spice powder in place of other spices in all kinds of recipes lately. I've had this jar in my cupboard for a few years (I know, spices should be replaced sooner but it still smells ok); I probably bought it for one recipe and haven't used it since. Now that I have been putting it into my regular rotation of spices, I am even going to recommend that you get yourself a jar.

Chinese five spice powder is a blend of (you guessed it) five spices, the most common being star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel. It is a warm blend of spices- think pumpkin pie spice with an Asian flair. Here are some recipes and quick ideas:

  • Replace cinnamon with 5-spice powder in Bran Flax Muffins 
  • Use 5-spice powder instead of other spices in my Olive Oil Granola
  • Asian BBQ Pork: Sprinkle pork tenderloin with 5-spice powder and grill, basting with hoisin sauce in the last 5 minutes of cooking (can also substitute chicken)
  • Pumpkin Pie: I am going to try this in the next few weeks- replace the regular pumpkin pie spices with 5-spice. I think it will be epic
  • Exotic Cinnamon Toast: Spread toast with butter, sprinkle with a little 5-spice powder and sugar
  • Roast Chicken: sprinkle a whole chicken with 5-spice, salt and pepper, roast as you normally would 
  • Smoothie: I just had this for breakfast as I was writing this post and it was delicious. Blend an apple, 1/2 a banana, handful baby spinach, small handful rolled oats, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/4 cup apple cider, a sprinkle of 5-spice powder.
And from around the web:
Two Years Ago: Halloween Food