Monday, December 27, 2010

Every time an old person dies it is as if a library has burnt down.
— African proverb

I first heard this quote used in relation to Alzheimer disease a few weeks ago, and it has stuck with me since. It captures one aspect of the disease — certain priceless history, lost forever. But unfortunately Alzheimer's is so much worse than that. I've come to realize this as I've watched my grandmother live with it for the past few years.

But rather than dwell on sad thoughts this holiday season, I preserved a tiny part of what is left of a library of recipes, both classic and contemporary, in cookbook form to give as gifts to family members. And, I am not alone in this — lots of cooks are being remembered through their recipes. (For once a New York Times trend I can get behind.)

I loved the idea of making a cookbook of my grandmother's handwritten recipes from the minute I thought of it, and luckily I found software that made the process incredibly simple. 

The book was made with my scanner (of course) and the Blurb Bookify™ online bookmaking tool — the best and most affordable system I've used. (And that means a lot coming from a publishing geek who has put together more than her share of photobooks over the years.) I haven't found another product with the level of functionality or user-friendly interface that Blurb offers, and the print quality of the finished books is excellent.

Let me know what you think of the book, and if you decide to make one of your own.




Sunday, December 12, 2010

This week at the grocery store...

I got the the uncomfortable feeling that Galen Weston has been reading my diary.

You see, the new President's Choice™ holiday line is out and they really hit it out of the park. The highlights:

Vodka beet smoked salmon: The flavor is really subtle, so think of it as good smoked salmon in a vibrant magenta hue. More style than substance for sure, but I love novelty.

Macarons!: these are sold in the freezer section and should be kept frozen until 20 minutes before they are ready to serve. (Macarons have a shelf life of about 2 days, so this is brilliant and necessary. Fresh macarons all year long!) If you like macarons you wont be disappointed by these — they taste pretty authentic. My favourite flavours are the vanilla and the mocha.

The standout of the holiday line is the Red Velvet cheesecake. It's a hollowed out red velvet cake sitting atop a chocolate wafer crumb crust, filled with New York-style cheese cake and topped with cream cheese icing. I know it sounds like there's a lot going on, but trust me, it works. And the deceptively small looking cake can feed an army.

Before you think I've started vying for a shot at being the next PC spokesman, (which would be fruitless, because they'll never dump Galen) I'll try to balance this post with a not so favorable PC review.

It's a word of caution really: Just because you can make cheese souffles from a bag of frozen pellets...

...doesn't mean it's a good idea. (Give the PC Dine-In Tonight Emmental Cheese SoufflĂ©™ a pass.)

Yes, it's been a long hard few weeks of eating packaged food. I'm eager to get back to cooking.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The things we do for love: Red Velvet cake

Every year for the past 36 years, Shawn's parents gather the family to celebrate his birthday. And, every year, for roughly the past 10, they've asked me to provide the cake. This year was no different.

I usually buy one because, as I’ve mentioned many times before, I'm not big on baking. But this year, when Shawn asked if I could make a Red Velvet cake (his newly discovered favourite), I decided to give it a shot. For those of you who aren't familiar, Red Velvet cake is a two layer vanilla cake flavored with a little cocoa, coloured bright red with food colouring and topped with cream cheese icing.

The recipe I used appears in the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I won’t reproduce the incredibly detailed recipe here —not just because it’s incredibly detailed — but because Cook’s frowns on any unauthorized reproduction of their recipes.

I will, however, share Cook’s secret for attaining the right shade of red: 2 tablespoons of natural cocoa mixed with one 1-ounce bottle of red food colouring, which is added to the cake batter. According to Cook’s, "natural cocoa" (as opposed to the cheap and ubiquitous Dutch-processed kind) must be used in order for the cake to rise properly and attain the right colour.

And how did Cook’s illustrate the right shade of red?

In grayscale! (True, Cook’s is not a colour publication, but the above image was really not helpful.)

For all the effort, the cake turned out well, especially the frosting. I'm just not sure I obtained optimum redness. Judge for yourself. Here are the pictures from my adventures in cake making:



As you can see, the process was not always pretty. But if it’s pretty we want, we’ll have to wait for Char to post one of her birthday cakes.




Sunday, November 14, 2010

New ingredient obsession: Greek yogurt

Rocco Dispirito, hot celebrity chef extraordinaire, has shifted his attention in recent years from restaurants to healthy eating. I'm happy to report that his new book Now Eat This is really good, thought admittedly, I will never be completely unbiased when it comes to Rocco.

Many recipes, like the one below, call for low fat Greek yogurt, which I had never cooked with before. Once I tried though, I was hooked. It's got a great thick texture, but the best part about it is that it's all yogurt — no thickeners or gelatin (gross). I like it as a sour cream or regular yogurt substitute, but Rocco says that full fat Greek yogurt can replace butter one-to-one!

I have to say that I have a hard time finding the low-fat version that many of Rocco's recipes call for. (Only non- or full fat at my grocery store). But even full fat Greek yogurt is a much healthier alternative to sour cream or heavy cream.

Here's Rocco's lightened-up version of the classic Penne a la vodka:



12 oz whole-wheat penne
2 cups low-fat marinara
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup 2% fat Greek-style yogurt
1 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and ground pepper
6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, about 9 min.

Meanwhile, in a large, nonstick pan over medium, combine the marinara and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant rubber spatula, for about 5 min, or until it is reduced and slightly thickened.

Remove the marinara from the heat. In a small bowl, stir about 1/2 cup of the marinara into the Greek yogurt until it is smooth to temper it, then whisk the yogurt mixture back into the marinara in the pan.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, tossing to coat. Add the basil and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.
Notice anything missing in the recipe? That's right. The tang of yogurt replaces that of the vodka, so Rocco omitted it. What a guy...

Oh, and he complimented my portion size, so I can now cross "one-on-one interaction with Rocco Dispirito" off the bucket list. (Shawn is incredibly jealous.)




Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boil Water Advisory

While navigating the most popular tab of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything app on my iphone, I was struck that the recipe at the top of the list was called Boiled Water. And it's most popular by a mile. It currently leads its closest competitor, Meat Loaf, by 806 votes!

I thought this might be a joke, or an internet meme in the vein of Three Wolf Moon. (Read the reviews of the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt on, if you don't know what I'm talking about). 

But, Bittman's Boiled Water is actually a simple soup; a variation of an ancient peasant dish from southern France. And it's remarkably satisfying, if I say so myself. And, I think I can speak with authority on this one since I am descended from peasants.

Here's how to make boiled water:



8-10 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 thick slices French bread
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch chopped fresh parsley


In a stockpot bring 4 cups of water, the garlic, bay leaf and some salt and pepper to a boil. reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 15 min.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Brown the bread, turning once for a total of 5 min.

Place the bread in bowls and top with the cheese.

Strain the broth into the bowls and top with the parsley.

It's as simple as that. Try it. In this case 1526 anonymous internet commenters weren't exaggerating.  




Garlic and Parsley Soup on Foodista

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Loving the new FEED trick-or-treat bags benefiting UNICEF.
It's never too late to check in on what the world's most unlikely Halloween fanatic is up to this time of year (aka Martha Stewart). After all, it's a tradition going on 3 years now.  New for 2010 is Medusa Ice Face and Hands Punch (left). Check out the how-to video here.  I don't know, looks more Close Encounters of the Third Kind to me...
Finally, because I mentioned my appreciation of the Beetlejuice aesthetic in last week's post, I feel that I have to share this fun post on Design Sponge. 

Enjoy your evening!

Sunday, October 24, 2010




I'd had a package of zebra pasta in my cupboard for months waiting it would seem for a spark of inspiration. And I guess, with Halloween coming and all, that inspiration came today.

Here's how I threw this dish together:



1/4 cup butter
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1/2 head radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
250 g zebra linguine
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping


Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then continue to cook until it is golden brown (about 2 min). Add sweet potatoes and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender, 6 to 8 min. Reduce heat to low, add radicchio and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until radicchio is wilted and just tender (about 3 min).

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and top with sweet potato mixture, or add the pasta to the mixture and stir to combine.

Serve topped with the grated Parmesan.

This meal was as satisfying as Beetlejuice the movie was underrated. Rewatch it if you doubt the film's brilliance. (I loved the aesthetic too.)




Pasta A La Lydia (Halloween Inspired) on Foodista

This week at the grocery store...

After months in Canada, grapefruit flavoured Perrier has finally made its way to my grocer's shelves

Now I find myself victim of my own high expectations.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vote for my cheesy pasta!

My famous Butternut squash macaroni and cheese is a finalist in the 20-minute supper club's cheesy pasta food fight!

We are competing against some very similar dishes, so we need to separate from the rest of the pack.

Please vote early and often!



Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Arch!

I wasn't the only one taking pictures of the arch this morning.

San Francisco's got nothing on Ottawa. (When it comes to Chinatown arches.) After months of hard work, the artisans have packed up and gone back to their homeland, and we residents of Centretown have been left with a breathtaking gateway to Chinatown.

Judge  for yourself:

This is San Francisco's Dragon Gate:

And, this is Ottawa's new arch:

My attempt to capture some of the detail.

This is only one of many positive developments in Ottawa's Chinatown, which I hope to write more about in the weeks to come.

It's all very exciting!

Photo credit: The San Fran pic is from the flickr stream of one Paul 'Tuna' Turner. (I guess when I was there this summer I was too busy taking pictures of grilled cheeses and other important landmarks like the Oracle robot that everybody hates to get a good shot of the Dragon Gate.)




Monday, September 20, 2010

Best of summer 2010

And what a summer it was! There were stifling heatwaves. Except in San Francisco, where it was freezing.

It was also very busy for me, causing my posts to be a little more spaced out than I would have liked. Luckily that busy work proved to be worth it. In two weeks I start an exciting new job, which will include, among other responsibilities, blogging! For a living!

I did, however, still manage to squeeze in a bit of cooking through it all.

I discovered the best corn chowder recipe ever from the inspiring Mark Bittman, which I made twice with corn fresh off the cob (above). The naked cobs are boiled to make the soup stock.

I cheated on my regular crab cake recipe with a new spicier one. The dressing mirrors the ingredients in the cake for a symbiotic and delicious effect.

I finally found a veggie burger I could get excited about. This recipe from the 20 minute supper club is the opposite of bland (and uses corn chips as a novel binder). But, you do need to serve these in pitas as the recipe recommends. I used buns instead (because of my perceived inability to keep pita bread from molding), but the burgers didn't hold together enough for that, and the result was quite messy.



I used my tried-and-true shortcut ravioli technique to put together this beautiful sweet beet ravioli.

And, last but not least, I continued my quest for the perfect grilled cheese. Pictured left is a granny smith, smoked cheddar and caramelized onion combo on walnut bread. Another winner was cheese curd* and butternut squash chutney on brioche. 

What did you cook this summer? 

*The guys at the Piggy Market informed me that, contrary to popular belief (and the assertions of Health Canada), you should not refrigerate cheese curd; just store in a cool dry place. Who knew?