Friday, September 11, 2015

Where were you on 9/11?

14 years ago today as my mom and I were pulling into Låsby, Denmark we heard the horror of what was unfolding in New York City at the Twin Towers.

I went frantically in search of English television. The wonderful people at Hotel Låsby Kro set us up in one of their meeting rooms and got the TV working. We were on our way to Copenhagen and this event altered the tone for the rest of our trip. 

When air space finally reopened around the world a week later, we headed home. It was a constricting feeling to know that the only way back to Canada was by flight. 

My moment of levity came when security confiscated my mother's toe clippers at the Copenhagen airport. Yep, even this sweet old lady from Canada was not above suspicion. Her weapon was seized. 

Any person conscious on September 11, 2001 will forever be able to answer "Where were you on 9/11?" Sadly, our world changed in that moment. I wish for the good old days.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Creamy Zippy Strawberry Ice Cream

Alison on Instagram (who says she isn't sweating the small stuff) also says she wants to make strawberry ice cream.  Her neighbourly voice from my Instagram feed was a forceful reminder of why I started to blog in the first place.  To share my love for food, ideas about food and successful recipes.

Along the way I played with prose and photography but at the end of the day, none of it affects how good food can taste if you have helpful instructions and a solid recipe.

So Alison, here you go and I hope your day in the berry patch is full of red.

I started with a recipe by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez from Gourmet Magazine June 2001 and made the modifications that suit my tastes.  I was attracted to this recipe because it used whole eggs instead of a high number of egg yolks as I have seen in other recipes and have used before.  It was time to give this idea a try.

The berries I used were purchased from Shouldice Farm 3 days before and were still in good shape. I had washed, cleaned and cut them right away.  They were stored in the fridge in a glass bowl (without sugar) covered in plastic wrap which meant they kept well. Because I bought 4 litres of berries, I knew I wanted to do more than eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I'm glad I tried ice cream.

I measured out about 3 cups of my prepared berries for this recipe which resulted in about 1 1/4 cups of purée.  More details in the recipe.

I was diligent about using my Thermapen along the way to make sure my base custard didn't cook too long.  That spells disaster as the eggs will curdle if they get too hot.  Also I made sure that the mixture going into the ice cream machine was super chilled. It was between 40F to 45F (4C to 8C).

I decided to skip the big lemon flavour and opted for adding in a balance of vanilla and balsamic vinegar.

The ice cream machine is a home machine by Cuisinart with a double-insulated freezer bowl.

Good luck and thank you Allison for the nudge to get me to write up this recipe!  It's a keeper for me.

Yields 5 cups

1 3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vanilla sugar**

3 cups trimmed and quartered strawberries
1/4 cup vanilla sugar**
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Combine the cream and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium low heat.  Once it starts to bubble remove it from the heat.

As the cream is warming, whisk eggs with 1/2 cup vanilla sugar in a medium bowl (glass or metal - not plastic).  Use a hand mixer on low if you prefer.  Add the hot milk in a slow stream, whisking quickly.  That helps to bring up the temperature on the eggs without overheating the eggs. The official term is 'tempering'. (Tip: when you have the top edge of the pot on the top edge of the bowl as you do the slow pour, it helps to control the pour and avoids spillage.)  Pour the egg/cream mixture back into saucepan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly.  The magic temperature you are shooting for is 170F.  No more or you will curdle the eggs.  Do not let it boil.  The custard will thicken slightly. Watch the heat!

Then pour the heated custard through a fine sieve into a metal or glass bowl (not plastic!).  This is important to get out egg bits and vanilla bean bits.  You want a really creamy ice cream, right?  If you have the patience of Job, go ahead and cool it at room temperature and then chill it in the fridge for most of the day to get it to 4C to 8C.  If you have the lack of patience that I do, then put ice cubes with some water in a bowl and place the bowl of custard on ice, stirring until it is chilled.  It will likely still need some time in the fridge. Sorry about that. But at least you won't be waiting forever.

You can make the strawberry purée before or after the custard. Whatever suits your kitchen ballet.  It too needs to be super chilled.  Purée approximately 3 cups of prepared strawberries with 1/4 cup vanilla sugar, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.  I have a VitaMix and it is a dream for this job.  Force the purée through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.  You need 1 1/4 cup of  purée for this recipe. Put in a bowl and cover with saran wrap.  Again, I had no patience to do the fridge chill so I popped it in the freezer for about an hour.  When it hit 4C I mixed the strawberry purée with the custard.  Again, I knew I was all set when the temperature of this strawberry custard mixture was between 4C and 8C.  Gawd bless the Thermapen.  One of my most favourite kitchen gadgets.  It will definitely help you to not sweat the small stuff.

Now get that ice cream machine set up.  The double-insulated freezer bowl needs to be completely frozen.  I have it in the freezer overnight as a minimum. Start it up and pour the strawberry custard with care through the top opening.

The ice cream should be ready in about 20 minutes  Today it was just shy of 20 minutes.  You will hear the machine start to lag when it is getting close. It is important that it doesn't start to completely freeze but it should move like VERY slow moving lava.  If you start to see freezing close to the edge, you're done!

Pour the prepared ice cream into an airtight container.  I prefer a shallow container to give me even freezing in a hurry. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the ice cream before putting on the lid to avoid crystals forming on the top. I had the ice cream in the freezer for 3 1/2 hours before serving.

Ice cream keeps for one week.  I feel a bit silly saying that! ;-)

** My vanilla sugar is regular granulated sugar that houses my old vanilla beans that have had the seeds removed for other recipes.  The used vanilla beans infuse their flavour into the sugar. (If I didn't have vanilla sugar on hand I would have put a vanilla bean in the cream as it was heating.  Another alternative is putting pure vanilla extract in the custard after it has heated to 170F.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Phyllo Tart with Ramps, Tomato and Cheese

A phyllo tart is an attractive dish for entertaining and it's also exceptionally versatile when mixing flavours and styles.  I recently created a Leek, Asparagus and Mushroom Tart for Edible Ottawa magazine's May issue. Today's lunch was a take on this tart with a change up to the cheeses I used and the vegetables for decorating.  This tart was even easier since I didn't do a full filling 

Tarts like these can be used as a starter course for a dinner party, a main component on a lunch plate or even cut into multiple pieces to serve as hors d'oeuvres.

Enjoy your launch into spring entertaining.


3 sheets of phyllo pastry
1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3 oz Fontina cheese, thin slices
2 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 small ramps
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
3 oz small tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut 3 sheets phyllo in half crosswise. Brush melted butter and a touch of mustard on each sheet and overlap so that the sheets are staggered lengthwise and can cover a 14-inch by 4 to 5-inch tart pan.

Place into the tart pan and pleat in the edges.

Place the Fontina cheese into a single layer on bottom of the tart. 

Chiffonade the leaves from 3 of the ramps. Thinly slice their bulbs. Sprinkle half of the prepared ramps over the Fontina cheese. As well, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the fresh thyme.

Layer on the shredded mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle on the remaining prepared ramps and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme.

Feel free to adjust the amount of ramps and thyme you want to use according to your tastes.

Place a whole ramp decoratively over the cheese.  Arrange the tomato halves around the ramp.

Season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the phyllo is golden and the cheese has melted and is showing colour. Check after 20 minutes to see if it should be covered with foil for the remaining time.

Let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mrs. W's Mean Cottage Casserole

What makes our time here on earth have real meaning?  Whose lens do we look through when we take stock of a life well lived?  The lens of the public? Or the view from the family?  Too often we praise greatness for worldly accomplishments when one's home life was a crumbling inferno.  Perhaps that is greatness over acknowledged.  I for one, side with the view from the family.

March 2013 the world was a flutter about the New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill.  Leading commentary referred to the fact that "she made a mean beef stroganoff" and was "the best mom in the world".  Both testaments appear to be attributed to her son, Matthew.

To the rest of the world though, Yvonne Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist and so says that NYT obit "in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits."

Losing your mother is one of the most earth shattering moments in your life.  Many of us outlive our parents and must endure this pain.  This most certainly was real for Matthew Brill too.  Perhaps his mother's rocket knowledge was not foremost in his mind as he tried to soothe his broken heart.

My own mother has been gone now for more than a decade and I know in the darkest moments it was not my mother's 'accomplishments' that gave me comfort when I was pushed from my slumber with constricting grief.  For me, my days were made bearable by the tribute to her strong character, her unwavering ethnics, her sense of community, her sense of fairness, her tender caring, her highest priority to family near and far, and her genuine love for all.  For me, she was "the best mom in the world".

This past week one of my most special friends from school days lost her mother very suddenly at the age of 83.  She too lost "the best mom in the world".

Mrs. W had similar qualities to my own mother - though still quite a unique lady - which made spending time in their home such a pleasure.  I have a number of memories about her involving food. No surprise I guess.  Mrs W was active in the Scouting movement.  When I was still in high school I had the privilege to attend a Cub Camp weekend as the troop's Cook! 'Come and get it!' They ate well.

At one of the annual Scouting banquets (always catered potluck style) Mrs. W brought her Cottage Casserole.  It has a bit of an Asian flair. She had lived in Toronto before joining our farming community. This was pretty cosmopolitan cuisine for our meat and potatoes crowd and my father in particular was delighted at the new taste.  It was made many times over the years and has been adopted into the kitchens of my brothers and their children too.  Last week there was much talk of this casserole as we remembered a great lady in character but also in the kitchen.

Matthew Brill was lucky to have a very accomplished mother, who gave much to her field of science and to her country.  But, maybe more importantly, he can say "she was the best mom in the world", not to mention "she made a mean beef stroganoff"!

For Matthew, my dear friend, and me, to say we had "the best moms in the world" carries the day.  Good food was a bonus too. Rockets and the like, icing on the cake.

Although I never had Mrs. W's beef stroganoff, she sure made a mean Cottage Casserole.

Servings: 8

2 Green Peppers, chopped
2 cups Celery, chopped
1 Spanish Onion, chopped
2 cans Mushrooms, with juice *
2 cans tomato soup, condensed **
2 lb Ground Beef
4 tbsp Soy Sauce
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
6 oz Chow mein noodles

Sauté everything together. Save 1/2 noodles for topping. Mix well and bake at 325ºF uncovered for 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve over rice.

* Real mushrooms were not so readily available at the grocery store back in the 70's.  I have moved on to the real deal in my kitchen now.  Although I made the recipe as instructed for this post,  consider replacing the canned mushrooms with 2 cups of sliced sautéed button mushrooms and 8 to 10 oz of unsalted beef, vegetable or mushroom broth.

** you might not be much into canned tomato soup but I offer no substitute.  It just wouldn't be a recipe from the 70's without it!!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Guisado de Pollo

Hello food friends!  I hope the chilly days of January have been good to you.  The commitments we have made to be better to ourselves and to others are still full of hope and promise.

One of our hopes for 2015 is to take the time to enjoy the hard work and creations of the many, many wonderful recipe developers who sweat over ingredients and flavour combinations. Then scripting them with clear and hopefully, easy to follow methods. We want to try new dishes, explore new genres and learn new techniques.

Our repertoire of Mexican dishes has true favourites and we turn to them time and time again, just 'because'. But it's time to make room for new friends.

When I saw the Guisado de Pollo recipe from Saveur, the long list of ingredients was enticing, not intimidating.  The best part was that most of the ingredients were actually in the house.

I followed the recipe to the letter. Well, almost.  There was a bit extra tomato as I had more than the required 15 ounces.  I also added the juice from my canned pineapple.  But other than that, I stuck to the script.

What did I learn? This doubting Thomas did not think the suggestion for preparing the chicken could give me tender shreds.  But who am I to question the wisdom of the Saveur engine.  It is a personal flaw I am trying to push pass. Unfortunately I have those feelings more than I would like.

Well here I am now with a beautiful Chicken and Potato Stew full of tender shredded chicken brimming in the broth.  As much as I obsess about trusting methods in the recipe, I also can go over the top when I have beyond expected success. I have a funny feeling this kitchen is going to see a lot of shredded chicken in the weeks to come. Yes, perhaps just a bit over zealous on tender shredded chicken.

The mister says this recipe is even better the next day and that he would love to have it again. Who doesn't love a 'keeper'.

The recipe for Saveur's Guisado de Pollo can be found on their website.  Here is the ingredient list to get you all juiced up.

* The beautiful artisan Country Sourdough bread in the photo comes from Bread By Us, 1065 Wellington Street West in Ottawa.

GUISADO DE POLLO (Chicken and Potato Stew)


Serves 6 to 8


¼ cup canola oil
1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 small white onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped fresh or canned pineapple
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried thyme
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 canned chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, quartered lengthwise
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into ½" cubes
4 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs epazote or cilantro
1 (15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
3 tbsp. capers, rinsed
Juice of 1 lime
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