Sunday, May 13, 2012

new beginnings?

It's been a while, people. It should come at no surprise at this point that the squirrel is on a little hiatus. During this hiatus, I've been hitting my school projects hard, but I've also been taking some time to get myself back into the healthier eating I was doing before this blog fed my inspiration to bake cakes and pastries. Once you realise - REALLY realise - that your cooking and eating is out of control, you can't go back.

What does this mean for Unhip Squirrel? A lot of really exciting things! I'm working on relaunching this blog once things calm down a bit with school. It will be different, though. I'm lucky that I have long been in a love affair with vegetables (my favourite cookbook EVER is Plenty), and that's where the focus is going to be. I'm still going to bake cakes and pastries and pies and cheesecakes and cupcakes and all those yummy things, but I'm just going to be a little more reasonable about it.

So stay tuned, and don't forget about the Squirrel. I'll be back and more inspired than ever.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

apple and rosemary chicken salad

Yup, things continue to be quiet around here. I'll tell you why, and it seems a little bit weird to be doing so while at the same time presenting you with a mayonnaise based salad...

Friends, no matter how many baked goods and treats you give away to your friends, eating unhip squirrel style is unhealthy. I always had the intention of presenting delectable morsels to you as once in a while treats, but the reality is that this blog has an "EAT ALL THE THINGS!!!!" sort of vibe. Because I get really excited about food. Oh man. I really love to be creative and fun and experiment with different flavours.

And do you know what can happen when you do that? You can gain ten pounds in one year, on top of the ten pounds you gained the year before.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

olive oil & fennel seed cupcakes with citrus buttercream frosting

Why such infrequent posting these days, especially since I admittedly had a backlog of recipes to share? Two reasons, but the short answer is school. Final projects. Brain is mush. Can't look at computer anymore without having a psychedelic experience. This is the point where I would probably say something along the lines of how cupcakes are a pretty good consolation prize when you're up to your eyeballs in schoolwork. They can keep you motivated ... just one more hour of moving pixels around and then I get to have a cupcake! ... but the reality is that I baked these like 2 weeks ago for my other final project. So no cupcakes in the squirrel household for me to truthfully segue into my topic from.

The cake part of these cupcakes really blew me away. The olive oil played a dual role in both flavour and fat. It's one of those think-outside-the-box scenarios; at first you may think that olive oil isn't meant to have a starring role a cupcake of all things, but you will come around once the shock wears off. I really, really think I could eat olive oil cake all day. Add in fennel seed, top with orange buttercream frosting and BAM, you're in weird-but-awesome cupcake heaven.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

red wine soaked burger with gouda, caramelized onions and rosemary aioli

I love New York City. I know that probably seems like the dumbest and most obvious thing out there that any person could say - akin, perhaps to announcing that you enjoy oxygen - but believe it or not, it's not. Adam is not a lover of New York City. He's not big on noise or crowds. He doesn't get the crazy eye when shopping. If anything, he gives the stink eye when shopping. He hates stuff and pretty things. Adam and New York City don't really get along. He is good to me though - he indulged me a few years ago when I wanted to visit the city for ten, yes TEN, days. Ten glorious days of shopping, eating, museum-going and generally gawping at things I'd seen on TV.

Now that I live in Montreal, it's a little easier visit New York. When my mom came to visit last month, I suggested we take a mini vacation, since a) it's fun and b) she's never been. After a long day of doing touristy things, and after having spent the day with all the good intentions of going somewhere a little less cheesy for dinner, we admitted defeat and picked the first restaurant we could within a one mile radius of our hotel. Proximity and rosemary aioli won me over to the Union Square Five Napkin Burger, which admittedly is fraught with Cactus Club style douchebaggery, but actually had a pretty good burger.

Of course, I planned to recreate this burger as soon as possible. As soon as possible ended up being about 2 weeks later (and one week ago). Here it is. Delicious and amazing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

vij's chickpeas in star anise

Man... I have a backlog of recipes to post for you people! Things have been so crazy. I have two final projects due in the next couple of weeks. One of my final projects involved, well, food (what else is new - food is my obsession) so I had to cook up a bunch of things that would look pretty in photographs. In fact, I blew my weekly budget at the grocery store on all these projects. I baked a layer cake (which didn't end up making the final cut, but was delicious) and some more cupcakes (which did). I redid my kalamata hummus photo. I baked cookies that sounded more exciting than they actually were. And I made a curry.

A curry that I've been desiring ever since the delightful Foodess posted it on her blog. People, this curry is just as good as it sounds. It's sweet, spicy, protein-rich and meat-free. Honestly, I felt that cardamom was more dominant as a flavour than star anise, but the anise was there. It probably would have been different if I'd used ground star anise.

But, in all seriousness, run (don't walk) to your nearest grocery store to get the supplies you need to make this for your dinner. Vij will not disappoint you. He never, ever does.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

whole wheat banana date muffins with honey

This week has been crazy with cooking and baking projects! I've got my final project coming up for my photography class and, big surprise, I chose to photograph food. Coming up, I have some pretty exciting things in the Unhip Squirrel arsenal - a chickpea curry, some cupcakes, a ridiculous chocolate cake (it's baking as we speak - exciting does not even begin to describe this), some fun cookies... I can't wait to share it all with you. 

Whole wheat banana date muffins are not part of my project. I made them because for my curry, I needed to buy dates and the only size available was HUGE (Thank you, Metro! ugh). So I had plenty of dates that needed using, and the result were these muffins. Stand by for more datey things. I've got plenty left.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

rosemary roasted brussels sprouts & cauliflower (and Liebster awards!)

I'm going to let these roasted veggies speak for themselves. Mostly. The only thing I will say is this: They are crispy and fragrant with delicious burny bits. Rosemary and garlic hits you full in the face the second you open the oven door. They are salty and everything else good.

I could actually spend a lot more time talking about the miracle that is rosemary roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but instead of tooting my own horn, for once I'm going to talk about some other bloggers who deserve recognition for their creativity and commitment to real ingredients. Unhip Squirrel was recently honoured with a Leibster award by Tobias at the lovely T & Tea Cake. This is an award given by bloggers to bloggers - it serves to recognise smaller blogs of under 200 followers that you think deserve to be noticed. I was ecstatic to be given this distinction, and now am absolutely delighted to be able to pass it on to 5 other bloggers who I think are doing something pretty special.

Friday, March 2, 2012

deep dish straight-up rhubarb pie

Do you have a grandma? If you do, go hug her. Now. I don't care if she's busy, or you're busy... just go hug your gran. Because grandmas are SO AWESOME. Seriously. Who else hides candy in the sofa for you?* Who else lets you eat popsicles for lunch, to the frustration of your parents? Who else makes perogies from scratch that are so margariney (yes), crispy and saltilicious? Your grandma does. Okay, well... my grandma did.

Of course, I had two AMAZING grandmas - Grandma Woods and Grandma Martens. Today I am talking about Grandma Martens because rhubarb pie was a Grandma Martens thing. 

She introduced me to straight-up rhubarb pie. In fact, all I ever knew was straight-up rhubarb pie, until I was old enough that I became aware of what things were being sold where. Most rhubarb pies that you buy are tempered with apples or strawberries. People fear rhubarb on its own. Guys... be brave. Do something different. Trust in my grandma and let the rhubarb be the star. She won't let you down. I promise.

*Yes, she actually did this. It wasn't old sofa candy.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

crab & corn chowder

Well, hello there. Did you forget who I am? I wouldn't blame you if you did. I took a bit of a hiatus in the past few weeks. I blame parental visits, trips to New York City and final projects due. It's been busy and I've missed cooking and baking! However, some exciting news - while I was away, I was given a Leibster award! This is an awesome award given to the smaller blogs. I'm looking forward to posting more about the award and recognising other bloggers. Thank you so much to Tobias at T and Tea Cake!

Back to my lack of posting, I made up for it today - I made crab & corn chowder, pickled jalapeno cornbread and rhubarb pie. I guess you could say I was on fire? At the very least, I was bitten by the cooking bug (and pressed to do a self-portrait for one of my classes, which, believe it or not, necessitated the baking of pie) and I have a few recipes ready to go for those who are interested in the creative musings of squirrel brains.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

coconut vanilla bean cupcakes

I made these cupcakes days ago but I'm still eating them. I'm not gonna lie, they're kind of stale now. But they're still so good! I'm all alone, my other half has left me to go to a conference in Banff and I have nobody to help me out. Seriously. I've eaten lots of cupcakes. The thing that's saving my waistline is that, without Adam here, and facing an impending due date for a final project, I've been eating nothing but tofu stirfries and apples. And cupcakes. Ugh.

Can I tell you what I love so much about these cupcakes? They're flavoured with reduced coconut milk. That's right. You boil up some coconut milk in a pot for about 45 minutes until it's nice and thick. It's a coconut punch in the face. That's a good thing. If you even think about putting any other coconut flavouring in here, I will rain judgement down upon you so hard. Just trust in good quality coconut milk. Trust in its goodness. It will not fail you. It will provide you with moist, coconutty cupcakes. Substantial in their cakeyness (cakiness?), but also described by one guinea pig as "light." Good - all those sticks of butter fooled you!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

fettucine with ricotta, baby arugula and fresh herbs

Do you ever come out of a restaurant thinking, that was alright, but I could make it better? Sometimes I find the idea of something to be so much more appetizing than what arrives at my table when eating out. Case in point, fettucine with ricotta, arugula and fresh herbs.

I can't remember the name of the restaurant I had this at. I can't even remember which fresh herbs were used. The dish was pretty forgettable. It needed salt. It was flavourless. It was just... blah. But when I had read the description on the menu, the idea of pasta tossed with fresh unripened cheese and peppery arugula, it sang to me. What could have gone wrong?

With the ingredients carefully analyzed but long forgotten, I embarked on a new adventure to take this spectacular idea and make it taste spectacular, too. In my basket went baby arugula and fresh basil. Ricotta cheese, heading into its last week before expiration, sat at the ready in my refrigerator, as did two whole bunches of parsley (whoops) and a mountain of fresh thyme. Add to those a few old rinds of cheese just begging to be used, and I had the arsenal required to blow the blah pasta dish I had so many months ago out of the water.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

rice cooker breakfast for one (or, sweet almond rice)

Have I ever complained to you about my incompetence when it comes to making rice? Seriously. I burn it. I turn it into mush. Sometimes crunchy mush - yes, that is possible. If you lined up all the people in the world who suck at making rice, I'd be at the bottom of the pile. The least skilled person in the entire world. When do I receive my medal?

Up until recently, I got Adam to make the rice, unless he wasn't home. He is less incompetent at rice-making than I am, but he's also pretty bad.

But guess what I got for Christmas everybody... a rice cooker!! The kitchen appliance of my dreams! If you think I'm dreaming small, you don't understand how much of our very own brand of horrid rice we eat. We're big rice consumers here. We eat lots of curries and stir-fries. Practice does not make perfect. Lots and lots of crunchy, soupy, mushy, sloppy rice that we attempt to hide with delectable fragrant curries.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

kalamata olive hummus

Guess what! Tonight I'll have my autofocus 50mm lens. I'm so excited. So ridiculously excited! No more fuzzy photos. I'm bad at focusing. I blame my eyesight... but I could just be a sucky focuser.

I've spent today cleaning up the huuuuuge mess I created in the wee hours of last night, shooting my final project for product photography. Homemade lightbox made of an ikea laundry hamper. For real. Did it work? Yes... pretty well, actually! But I think I'm going to take another pass after I get my new lens.

To keep myself entertained while cleaning up a mess of dried chiles, green cardamom and star anise, I've been watching old episodes of Friends. I just finished the episode where Rachel walks out on Ross because she discovered the pro/con list he made when deciding whether or not to break up with Julie for her. If I had a pro/con list for Adam, which I don't, one con would be that Adam doesn't like olives. In fact he hates them passionately. A pro, however, would be that he humours me and will still eat any food I make that has olives in it. Generally, I don't call on his generosity very often, but once and a while I have to have my olive fix.

Today was one of those days... so hummus happened.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

plum & walnut sticky buns

Staying up until 2 AM baking sticky buns is not generally advisable, unless you a) can sleep in the next morning and b) you're watching the season 6 finale of Dexter. As I was putting together these sticky buns, the season wound up in my living room and I alternated between being on the edge of my seat and on the edge of barfing. Such hideous, horrible grossness in the last few episodes. And that final scene, when your gut drops... if you watch, you know the one. Please don't spoil in comments.

It's good that I had the promise of these sticky buns to balance out all the bad things playing out on screen. Just like the buns balanced with Dexter, the sweetness of the buns were balanced with tart little bursts of flavour from the plums I added. Plums are one of my favourite fruits to add to baking - they're much like cranberries but a bit sweeter and less bitter.

So when you're settling down to watch a particularly difficult bit of TV - such as the final few episodes of Dexter season six, the end of Six Feet Under, or perhaps a Curb Your Enthusiasm marathon - bake some plum and walnut sticky buns at the same time. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

roasted strawberry ricotta scones

In the past few days I've learned something - the magnificence of a roasted strawberry. Sure, I've done the roasted strawberry thing before, but I don't think I had it quite right. Don't get me wrong, they were really tasty, but after this experience, I don't think I had roasted them long enough. When you roast strawberries to the point where they begin to dry and disintegrate, all the water (the hallmark of California GMO strawberries) leaches out and you're left with little shrunken miracles that explode with the flavour of summer. Even in January. Seriously.

I was originally inspired to make these in muffin form by the tub of ricotta in the fridge and the 3 for $5 watery California strawberry sale at Metro. I immediately googled to see if anyone had done it. Lo and behold they had (at I balked at the idea of going to the trouble of roasting strawberries - who has the time to roast strawberries for 45 minutes in the morning?! - and followed this recipe without taking that step. And that's the story of how I welcomed the morning with dense little muffins, studded with squishy, slimy, watery cooked strawberries. Yumyumyum. Sarcasm.

Monday, January 23, 2012

vegetarian corn chili

Up until today, I'd never made a vegetarian chili. I was inspired to make it by my friend Suzanne who served it at her dinner party over the weekend, leaving a crowd of non-vegetarians totally satisfied. I love vegetarian food (to some extent - tempeh and mungbeans freak me out) and I've learned to appreciate vegetables in starring roles rather than supporting roles. I love the variety of different flavours and textures you get when making vegetables the main focus of a meal. I also find that when I'm eating too much meat, I notice. I love meat in small quantities, but I begin to feel the cumulative effect of too much meat; I begin to feel really heavy and gross. I don't have the strongest digestive system out there, and I find that I feel a lot better when I have less meat in my diet, while still maintaining a proper nutritional balance.

So if you're feeling a little meat heavy, throw together this chili. It's chock full of vegetables and you can use up all those old relics you have languishing in your fridge. Feel free to swap vegetables in or out to your liking. You can also use kidney beans instead of pinto if that floats your boat. I've had a can of pinto beans in my cupboard for a few months that just wasn't getting eaten, so I used those. They were a little softer than kidney and they broke down a little bit. This softness helped to maintain a balance of textures when paired with the chunky vegetables.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

burnt eggplant with tahini

You know what happens when I go downtown at 9:30 AM, only to learn that my first Photoshop class is cancelled? I end up in Chapters, that's what. And I spend $100. For real. Bad, bad!

I can kind of justify at least $40 of it as an educational investment. See, I was thumbing through Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi thinking that this is the food photographer I want to be. Jonathan Lovekin, the man behind the gorgeous pictures throughout this book, is my food photography inspiration. His work is colourful and not overly stagey; these are the two key characteristics of what I like when looking at other people's pictures of food. There seems to be one style of food photography that people aspire to nowadays - perfectly staged and overexposed with blown-out whites - in pursuit of the traffic spike that comes with being accepted to Foodgawker or Tastespotting. Irony of ironies, if ever any of my photos were to be accepted there, it would probably be the one above, because it fits well with this trend. But regardless, I believe that there's room for creativity and individualism in food photography, and that people shouldn't worry so much about getting their pictures accepted to these websites. 

Learn from others, but take the photos that you want to take. Develop a style that you are truly happy with instead of working toward a style that will bring you popularity. Wow. I sound like your high school guidance counselor.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

hot chili brownies

Ahhh, chili and chocolate. A celebrated combination of flavours - one of which I love, the other I don't. It's the chili that has my heart. The chocolate? It can take a hike. But as I've mentioned before, sometimes I get so inspired by an idea that I must bake, even though I have little to no desire to eat anything (a rare occurrence, to be sure - but it does happen. Usually when my jeans feel tight). Given my lack of willpower around desirable and delectable baked goods - the usual suspects being pastries with cream, fruit desserts, meringues, cakes, et cetera - the usual solution is to bake something made of chocolate. I do an objective taste test, and give away the rest. It's a perfect solution (much like the salt-shaker trick. If you've ever eaten out at a restaurant with me, you know what that's all about).

The inspiration for these brownies came from the chili oil I made this weekend, from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty (here's an online version of the recipe at Better Me, Better World). I love the way dried chilis, unlike cayenne powder, have a slow heat that takes a few seconds to hit you. With cayenne, it's an instantaneous fiery blast. Dried chilis seduce you slowly and have a cumulative effect - one that can leave your mouth on fire by the end of a meal. For this reason I love the idea of cutting these brownies really small - an inch by an inch squared, say - and serving them as a novelty food item. That's not to say the depth added by the chili is only good for the fun of it, the chili chocolate combination is celebrated for a reason... because it works.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

healthy harvest muffins

 So, it's already been established that I suffer from stupid-huge cookie syndrome. I also have chronic stupid-huge muffin disorder. Whenever I bake muffins, I fill the muffin cups improperly and end up with maximum 11 instead of 12 muffins. I think I just remember things (food items, specifically?) as being bigger than they actually are. Case in point, when I was circling the grocery store scouting for muffin ingredients, I saw regular muffin liners and balked at their small size. Instead, I bought those labeled géant, convinced that they were the correct size for my muffin tin, even though the medium size was coloured in pink, yellow and blue, which I remembered from the last time I bought muffin liners. Of course, the géant liners were in fact géant and rose above the cups of my muffin tin.

And I ended up with 10 muffins. 10 moist, beautiful muffins, warm with spices and bursting with nutritiousness. When you pull these muffins apart, they're flecked with the bright orange and green of the carrot and zucchini - it adds a bit of visual interest and texture to your standard brown muffin. The bittersweet cranberries top off these muffins perfectly.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

deep dish cardamom wild blueberry pie

Blueberries and cardamom are a match made in heaven. Really. I first started on this when I tossed some blueberries with cardamom and sugar as a topping for homemade frozen yogurt. Slam dunk. My next experiment? Blueberry cheesecake squares with cardamom. I fed these to our neighbours and by all accounts, the squares were a home run. I tried unsuccessfully to recreate them for the blog once, but somehow it failed.  I was a little blueberry-cardamomed out at this point, but lo and behold, nine months have passed and I find myself in Nova Scotia with the in-laws and the promise of jars upon jars of frozen wild blueberries, the desire to bake a pie and the need for a new idea. New vehicle for blueberry cardamom combination? PIE. Done.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

nova scotia 2012

The squirrel kitchen has been quiet of late. It's not due to the usual Christmas bloating. I'm actually spending the week in Porters Lake Nova Scotia, which is just outside Halifax (pictured above, this time last year). We only have a few more days here, but I foresee many cooking projects upon my return. If you're wondering where my stomach is at, I'm about halfway through Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. Also, I ate a wicked pan-fried haddock with bacon horseradish tartar sauce at Jane's on the Common today, and you'd better believe I'm going to be in the kitchen attempting a recreation before my bags are unpacked. 

I may have also eaten the wings at Your Father's Moustache, but we don't need to talk about it. In fact, we shouldn't.

In any case, hello.. I'm still here! Just away from my kitchen for a few more days. :)