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. :)