Friday, December 25, 2009


Thanks for visiting the blog this year, and I really appreciate those of you who took the time to comment. If I could I would send each and every one of you your very own copy of Cooking with Coolio. But since I can't, I'll end the end the year with a song.

After I posted Do they know it's Christmas (my all time favourite Christmas song) earlier in the season (here), a friend reminded me of the Canadian single that was part of he same aid effort (along with the American We are the world). The song that appears to be becoming somewhat of a Canadian Christmas classic. (At least it's been showing up at a lot of school Christmas concerts.)

So, because it would be wrong not to post it, here is the the David Foster masterpiece Tears are not enough, sung by every major Canadian recording artist of the 80s: 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This year's food gift finds

This year I stumbled upon a couple of unique food-related gift ideas that I thought were worth a post.

"The world's largest gummy bear" (ad featured above) kept coming up in search results when I Googled "gifts for kids" or "gifts for teens." It is quite simply 5 pounds of gummy bear. I found it odd that they were so aggressively marketing that kind of thing. I mean, wouldn't word get out amongst the gummy bear crowd?

My other curious gift discovery was that the Internet series Cooking with Coolio, which I've posted about before, has spawned a cookbook, out just in time for the holidays. Even more puzzling — Newsweek did a feature on it! I guess that unlikely series has finally come in to its own.

I hope Santa's good to you all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From the Russian Federation with love (just in time for Christmas): Draniki

We have reached our final destination — the Russian Federation, where the World Food Programme runs programs that help to feed thousands of Chechnyans displaced by war.

This recipe for potato pancakes, unlike the others in this series, is not particularly exotic. In fact, if you just celebrated Hanukkah, you may have actually experienced an overabundance of the classic latkes.

Though this recipe may seem simple,* there are some key tips to note in order to replicate the authentic flavour and texture. Here is the adapted recipe (with some extra tips thrown in):



1/2 lb of potatoes
1/2 a large onion
2 small eggs
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Sunflower oil for frying


Peel and grate the potato and the onion into a large mixing bowl.[1]

Add the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. If the resulting mass is very wet, squeeze down the mixture with a masher and pour off the extra liquid.[2]

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan.[3] When the oil is hot but not smoking, add about 1/4 cup the mixture and pat it down to ½ cm thickness, rounding the edges off with a spatula to form a pancake. Add more until the pan is full.

The draniki need to fry for 3-5 min on each side. To achieve a good colour, start them hot, but then turn them down to cook through. They should be crispy and golden on the outside, but soft in the middle, and the potato should be cooked through.

Notes: 1. Don’t use the coarsest side of your grater for this, or the potato will not soften properly. You want fine strands of potato which will mesh together during cooking. 2. As the mixture sits, water will leach out of the potatoes, making the batter wetter. So, it may be necessary to drin off the excess liquid in between frying the batches. 3. Why sunflower oil? Draniki are actually a version of a popular Ukrainian dish, deruni, and to get the authentic flavour, other oils just won’t do.

Serve with sour cream or apple sauce.

Best of the Holiday season! And, fill the red cup for those less fortunate.


*Grating potato and onion — never "simple."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

May the farm be with you

There was no recipe last week because I hosted a book club on the weekend, and had to study for a biotech exam that took place on Wednesday.

Book club went well, despite a few last-minute cancellations, and I think I did well on my exam, though I'm pretty pretty sure I mixed up DNA ligase and DNA polymerase. (Good thing I'm not in charge of protein synthesis!)

Anyway, in honour of the end of my biotech class, I wanted to post an incredibly well-done Star Wars parody that a fellow student posted on our class message board. Don't ever say that the organic movement doesn't have a sense of humour — because this is hilarious:

I'll be posting the last recipe in this series this week.




Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Inspiration from El Salvador

Off season, off topic...

In school did you ever fail an assignment for maybe drifting off topic? Well, that's kinda what happened with this week's cooking assignment, only the result was delicious.

I had planned to make a recipe from El Salvador, but finding little inspiration and a lot of meat in the Salvadoran recipes I was finding online, I instead took the flavours of El Salvador as my inspiration and found something that I could really get excited about cooking. I was drawn to this recipe — MASA CORN CAKES WITH POACHED EGGS, on the Food Network website because the cakes looked like pupusas — Salvadoran stuffed masa flatbread. I didn't really alter this recipe, excluding only the cilantro* in the salsa.

Straying just a little from my subject in this case was anything but a recipe for failure. In fact, taking inspiration from one culture's cooking and adapting it to suit a different environment and culture is nothing new. It's how we got Italian-American cooking — a style entirely its own. And just think — where would we be without Olive Garden?

Oh, and another thing about getting an F — apparently it's a good indicator of your potential as a  blogger. If I'd have known that I would have starting blogging 10 years ago when I was still in school. I would have been at the forefront!



*'cause it's disgusting.

Check out the good work that the WFP is doing in El Salvador.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Adventures in Ethiopian cuisine

In cooking, there's nothing I hate more* than when a recipe goes wrong. But that's just what happened with the Ethiopian meal that I had planned to post about last Sunday.

The eggplant salad I made didn't taste quite right, and adorable fish-shaped chickpea fritters that I hoped to make never materialized due to my inexperience in working with chickpea flour-based dough.

So, I resolved to visit an Ethiopian restaurant properly familiarize myself with the country's food and culture. I got a lot of reaction when I told people I was going to try authentic Ethiopian cuisine. Comments ranged from "It is the best food you will ever eat" to "they don't have a strong food culture...."

We went to Blue Nile, where I had a vegetarian combination platter and Shawn had lamb tips sauteed in butter. Both dishes were served with injera (a kind of crepe) — an integral part of the Ethiopian meal and your utensil. I had hoped to experience the coffee† ceremony that I had heard about, but you typically need a group of 5 for a restaurant to perform it, and they need at least a day's notice, so we were out of luck.
Some things we tried were good — Shawn loved his lamb and some of the vegetable "wots" (stews) were very good. Other things, like Tej, Ethiopian honey wine fermented with hops, were not my cup of tea. (In fact, it made my list of "Things I'll never drink again."‡)

I hope you enjoyed this little primer on Ethiopian food. You can read about WFP initiatives in Ethiopian here. As one of the world's least developed countries, Ethiopia has been dealing with severe food crises for decades.  It was the country that first drew the world's attention to the cause of world hunger in the 80s, and inspired this holiday classic:



*With the possible exception of Gordon Ramsay.
†Bonus fact: Coffee originated in Ethiopia.
‡Right next to Hooch.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake

Welcome to my first blog posting ever, and a big thank-you to Kristen for the invitation to guest post. Or guest blog, or whatever it's called. I hope I get this right — she told me to write the way I talk, but I'm afraid she'll be expecting a degree of brevity that I'm not sure I can deliver... there's a chance I'll ramble a bit, digress now and then. I hope you'll bear with me, and that Kristen will edit (please be gentle — it's my first time!). Kristen I are colleagues and neighbours, and have bonded a bit over bat infestations (mostly at home, but there sure are some crazies in the office too...).

I only learned about Sunday Best recently, and I've enjoyed nearly every post — except the two about a weird Rachel Ray cornbread-hotdog-and-beans casserole. Thanks to Kristen, I even have half-a-box of instant mashed potatoes in my cupboard, leftover from making some pretty fabulous basil gnocchi.

Did I mention I might digress? I'd better start talking about my own recipe pretty soon, or she'll really have to get the pruning shears out. So here we go — Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake.

It's a simple-to-make, unpretentious little coffee cake, and I promise you that everyone who tries it will love it. I got the recipe from the June 2002 issue of Bon Appétit and have made it at least once a year since then. The recipe says you can make it with pretty much any stone fruit (plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines) or even pears, but I've always used plums.

Today, I'm making not one, but three cakes for the bake sale table at my church's Fall Rummage Sale tomorrow. A lot of people who know things about baking would tell you it's important to mix up three separate batches of batter when you're making three separate cakes, but I'm a little pressed for time tonight so I'm throwing caution to the wind (come on, I throw like a girl — it's not like it's going to go anywhere) and just tripling the recipe. Here's what one cake's worth of ingredients looks like:

The cake base has a very thick batter, almost like cookie dough, because the sliced plums you put on top of the batter will let out all kinds of juice while they bake, and if your batter was thinner it'd never cook through.

The recipe says to use a 9" springform pan for each cake. I don't have one 9" springform let alone three, (I had one, but lent it out years ago and never saw it again) so I used my trusty 8" round cake pans, lined with parchment on the bottom. The cakes flip out pretty easily about 20 minutes after they come out of the oven — you just have to be a little gentle with them to avoid wrecking the cinnamony-sugary crust on top. One other thing: the recipe also calls for five large plums per cake, but I've never been able to fit more than 2 or 3 plums on top of a cake.

I also think that more plums would release more juice, requiring more time to bake.

It couldn't be simpler: you mix the batter, spread it out in the pan, top it with sliced plums and then a generous sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar, wait 45-50 minutes and voila! Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake.

Lovely on its own or with a little lightly-sweetened whipped cream on the side.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Under African Skies Pt 1 — Mtuzi Wa Samaki

I did not expect to find a fresh, light curry in my search for a traditional Kenyan recipe. So, not only is this foray into international cuisine fun, it's helping to rid me of some cultural food ignorance.

I chose to use sable fish in the dish, which I know is all kinds of wrong, as northern British Columbia is about as far from Kenya as you can get, but its mild taste was a great compliment to the other flavours.

Also, the original recipe called for 3 lbs of fish, but since I buy all my fish at a sustainable seafood wholesaler, a 1.5-pound fillet cost about $30, and so I figured that would suffice. After all, that extra $30 could go a very long way in Kenya, and in the end the dish still had a good fish-to-curry ratio.

Here's the recipe: 



1 1/2 lb fish fillets
3 tbsp oil
6 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper
1 onion
1 can coconut milk
3 tomatoes
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste 


Cut the fish in serving portions and chop the onion, bell pepper, garlic and tomatoes in small pieces.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Sear the fish fillets shortly and put them on a separate plate.

Do not cook through. Reduce the heat to minimum and add the pepper and onion. Sauté until the onion is semitransparent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 2 more min. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the fish fillets. Cover the pot and simmer until the fish is cooked through, which should take up to 10 min.

Serve with rice, boiled potatoes, chapatti, or boiled cassava.*

Click here to read about what the UN World Food Programme is doing to fight hunger Kenya in the wake of severe drought. I would also encourage you read this to give you an idea of how complex the problem of hunger is in Kenya (and incidently in many other regions). (More on that topic in a future post.)



*I have no idea what those last two are — see what I mean about ignorance?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Continuing on the journey...

Clearly, I was not ready to leave the Phillipines last week.

I was extremely busy tackling the problem of unregulated antibiotic use in livestock... for my biotech class. Also, I'm having camera problems; with the autofocus function in particular (as if you couldn't tell).

I did, however, make a good faith effort to find avocado ice cream, another Filipino delicacy, this week. That was the excuse I used to visit T&T, the popular Asian food superstore that just opened its first Ottawa location. I was busy (we had to line up to get in), and sadly there was no avocado ice cream, but there was a whole wall of shrimp chips. (More about my obsession with shrimp chips in a future post.)

If you would like to try making avocado ice cream for yourself, I suggest giving this recipe a try from the blog Velveeta Ain't Food. (It's been on my list of recipes to try for a while now.)

All that to say that we are definitely traveling to Kenya this week. Will post about the regional dish that we enjoyed this evening early in the week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

From the Philippines: Sweet potato (kamote) pudding

Because the flood-hit Philippines still need our help, I chose a traditional Filipino dessert as the first dish in this series. A quick glance at the ingredients and you could theorize that I felt I needed a little more sugar in my diet, but it being the day after Halloween, I assure you, that's not the case. Here is my take on the recipe:

SWEET POTATO (KAMOTE) PUDDING (Adapted from this site)


3 medium sweet potatoes
4 cups whole milk
1 can condensed milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
blanched almonds and raisins (about a handful of each)


Peel sweet potatoes and wash sweet potatoes and cut into small cubes.

Boil the whole milk in a heavy bottomed skillet on medium heat; Add sweet potatoes and reduce heat. Continue to cook until sweet potatoes are well done, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and mash potatoes until smooth. (I pureed with a hand mixer, and strongly recommend it.)

In a separate skillet, heat the butter. Add almonds and raisins and fry on very low heat until they turn light brown. Remove from skillet to a plate and set aside. In the same hot skillet, carefully add sweet potatoes along with condensed milk and sugar.

Adjust heat to medium, cook, stirring constantly until desirably thick. (I cooked it for 10 mins and that gave a nice consistency to the finished product.)

Remove from heat. Immediately transfer the dessert to a serving bowl and let set to cool. Garnish with almonds and raisins. Chill in refrigerator. Serves many.

I'm finding it hard to describe the subtle flavor of this dish. I think I'm having trouble focusing because of all the sugar (maybe I should run around the block and come back to this later). For now I'll say that it was a big hit around here, and I really enjoyed cooking outside of my comfort zone. If you liked being introduced to this recipe, please donate to the UN World Food Programme.

Not sufficiently entertained? Here's a hilarious sketch on celebrity humanitarianism with a cameo by none other than Jamie Oliver! It might not be your kind of humour, but I couldn't resist posting it. (Language warning.)




Sunday, October 25, 2009

Announcing a new series (you can contribute)

Starting next week and continuing until Christmas I will be using this blog to raise money for the UN World Food Programme. Each week I'll feature a traditional local dish from one country currently facing a food crisis. If you like what you read, you can donate to the World Food Programme by clicking on the red cup on the left of the screen.

I'm so excited to expand my culinary horizons and hopefully raise some money for a good cause!

So what, if any, actual food have I been cooking lately? Lots of pasta, pizza and squash; perfect examples of which are two recently enjoyed squash pizzas:

Butternut squash pizza (left) from Self magazine by way of Epicurious).

And, Acorn squash and Gorgonzola pizza (Giada by way of smitten kitchen). Incredible flavour combination, but as sk pointed out, probably not technically a pizza.

Remember: there are only six more days left in national pizza month — make it worthwhile.




Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Programming note

I didn't post this week because last Sunday's attempted pumpkin cupcakes were utterly inedible. And it wasn't even an entertaining fail. (Because I will post about those.)

But, I have an exciting series coming up next week, so please come back on Sunday when I'll let you know what it's all about.

In the meantime, check out this post on Christopher Kimball's blog, where he challenges us "online foodies" to a wiki vs. test kitchen cookoff.  Here's one food blog's response

I can't wait to see how this turns out. I'm betting it'll get ugly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Last week's leftovers: Week of 10/4/09 (the week we lost Gourmet)

There was really only one big story in the culinary world this week — the demise of Gourmet. Word came Monday that the 68-year-old magazine had been shuttered.

Unlike most food magazines today that focus mainly on recipes and food preparation, Gourmet regularly showcased original and inspiring food writing (see "Consider the lobster").

It was one-of-kind and will be missed.

Ice cream and the case for weddings

Brides-to-be: this does not take the place of an open bar. (That's still essential; recession or no.)

Shawn and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary this week. At the time the decision to marry him was not in question (never was), but I struggled quite a bit with the idea of having a wedding.

In 2006 the recession was nowhere in sight and the WIC (Wedding Industrial Complex) was at its most powerful. Add to the mix the then-hit show Bridezillas, and it's not hard to see how any reasonable woman might want to skip all the hoopla in favour of city hall.

But I survived the planning process with the help Martha Stewart's original do-it-yourself projects and the humour blog Godawful Wedding Crap. (So lucky to have gotten married around the same time as Riona.) And, here I am three years out, still very happy with our decision to have a wedding.

To those now making the decision for themselves, I say do it (no matter how simple), and, if at all possible, rent a Gelato cart — the return on investment is huge.

On that note, I wanted to share the following ice cream recipe that I tried last week. This will be the last of the season (promise). From the late, great Gourmet:



1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup 2% milk
3 large eggs

an ice cream maker


Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10" heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionaly.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.

Chill custard in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 hr or overnight.

Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.

This summer I also tried another Gourmet ice cream — Sour cream ice cream. I substitiutted 2 tsp vanilla extract for the vanilla bean and it tasted fantastic — like frozen cheesecake, but lighter.




Monday, October 5, 2009

This is what is considered an urgent email in our household

SENT: Mon 05/10/2009 1:48PM 

This message was sent with high importance.

From: Shawn 
To: Kristen
Subject: It's Happened Again!!

This time close to home!

(Though I must admit, a second giant egg so soon after the last is kinda noteworthy.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Last week's leftovers: Week of 9/27/09

The strange (and slightly disturbing) clip above was forwarded to me by Shawn on Monday. He proceeded to ask me all week if it was "going to on the blog."

I made one of my favourite scallop recipes from Martha Stewart.

We celebrated National Coffee Day; because, for me, if there were no coffee, there would be no day.

Martha has returned with her decidedly un-Martha Halloween offerings (right).

And, finally Rocco still can't  get a break.

With a massive food crisis in SEA dominating the news, this week's food highlights seem especially trivial, but I hope we can still have fun talking about random stuff (this is a food blog after all).