Pumpkin Pie

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I get a lot of questions from readers I meet about my husband.  The main one is, “why is he called the Pie?”  Well, I’ll tell you why.  And this goes back about nine or ten years, back when we had first met, and long before we started dating.  It’s really a great story.  I’ll tell it to you here:

One day, he told me that he really liked pie.

Yep.  That’s the whole story.  That’s why he’s called the Pie.  And now you know.  I hope you aren’t too disappointed.

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Sometimes, the Pie’s favourite pie is blueberry.  Sometimes it’s apple.  I can’t keep track.  But I know that pumpkin pie, even though it doesn’t qualify as a “true pie”, is at the top of my husband’s list of favourite pies.  And now that I have sort of mastered the art of vodka pie crust, and especially considering the amount of pumpkin purée I have in my possession, it is a logical choice, and this recipe looks lovely.  So here it is, a pumpkin pie that is so from scratch with its home-made pastry crust and fresh pure pumpkin that it’s almost like I made it entirely by hand-stitching individual atoms together (I can do that, you know).

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So, now.  It’s been a while since I made that vodka pie crust from Smitten Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, so I think I’m going to lay it all out for you again, just so we both can get some practice.  If you like, you can take some more of Smitten Kitchen’s tips on better pastry from her second tutorial.  Like her, I’m not a fan of shortening, so I went with an all-butter version of the crust today.  And this dough recipe makes enough dough for two single crusts, so I guess that means I HAVE to make two pumpkin pies.  I will try to sneak one into the freezer so the Pie doesn’t eat it too fast.  That way later on when he grumbles about having no more pie I can dramatically reveal that he is wrong.  I like doing that.

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For the pastryyou need to make sure everything is cold.  If your kitchen is frigid, like mine, this is easy.  For everyone else, just keep chucking stuff in the refrigerator if need be.  Ingredients.  Tools.  Bowls.  You name it.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt.

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Cut 1 1/4 cup cold butter into cubes and make sure it’s cold (re-chill it after you cut it before adding it to the mix).

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Dump that into the flour and use a pastry blender to chop it into tiny buttery-floury pieces.  You want to keep going and going and going, using a knife to clean off your pastry blender occasionally, until you end up with a mixture that closely resembles cornmeal.

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Put a dishtowel under the bowl to keep it from sliding around on you.

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Here’s the right consistency. You still need whole chunks of butter in there but you want them small.

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Drizzle 1/4 cup cold vodka (keep that baby in the freezer) and 1/4 cup ice water over the mixture.

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Use a big rubber spatula and a folding motion to bring everything together.

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You don’t want to stir so much as squish and squash everything into one big blob.  It will be pretty tacky, but that stickiness will disappear when the vodka burns off in baking.  You can use your hands to gently squish the remainder together, but don’t work it too much. If you feel you need to add more liquid, drizzle a bit more vodka onto it, but just a little.

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Divide your blob into two even pieces and flatten them into disks.  Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap for at least 15 minutes, and for up to 2 days.

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When your dough is sufficiently chilled, lay a piece of plastic wrap out on your work surface.  Unwrap one of the disks (keep the other in the fridge) and place it in the centre of the plastic wrap. Place another sheet of wrap over top.

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Working from the inside and moving out, use a rolling pin to flatten your disk into a nice round piece of pastry.  You’ll need a rough circle of about 12″ in diameter to fit in a 9″ pie pan.  Most plastic wrap is about 12″ wide, so you can use that as a guide.

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Notice how you can see gobs of butter in my dough?  That means I will have some lovely flaky pastry.  As the butter melts it will leave a little open space, which will fill with steam from the vodka and water, which will in turn expand the empty space, making the proper pastry flake.

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Chill your flattened pastry again for a bit.  If you put it on a baking sheet and chuck it in the fridge you should be good.  When you’re plopping it in your pie pan, make sure to remove the bottom layer of plastic wrap before rolling it over a rolling pin or folding it into quarters to place it in the pan.  I’ve done both methods here, so you can see what I mean.

Rolling pin:

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Folding:

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Gently lift the edges of the dough to make it easier to press into the bottom of the pan without tearing.

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Trim off the excess pastry from the edges of the pan.

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I used a fork to press the edges more firmly down onto the glass.  Chuck those back in the fridge when you’re done.

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I had some scraps left over from trimming, so I cut up a small apple, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled out the scraps again to form a small circle.

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I put the fruit on one half, folded it over, and pinched the edges shut.  Then I put it in a sprayed pan and baked it with the pie.

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It looks a little demented, but we’re not going for high quality here, just a snack.

For the pie filling, you need some pumpkin purée.  You can be lazy and buy the stuff that already has the eggs and spices in it and whatever and just dump that in your pre-bought frozen pie shell but that’s just not cool here at Ali Does It.  Make sure if you’re using canned pumpkin that it’s pure pumpkin, without the sugar and salt and all things spicy.

Now, you American folks are likely working from the 14 oz can of Libby’s or whatever it is you have.  Fourteen ounces is about 1 3/4 cups of pumpkin goodness.  Here in the FAR NORTH of Canada we have E.D. Smith pumpkin, which comes in 28 oz cans (~3 1/2 cups), so we generally use half a can for one pie, a whole can for two.  And of course I’m working from a I-have-way-too-much-pumpkin-purée-in-my-fridge perspective.  So I will be using that instead of the canned stuff.

Preheat your oven now, to 425°F and position a rack in the centre of the oven.

Beat up 4 eggs in a large bowl.  Whisk in 3 1/2 cups pumpkin purée, 2 cans (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk (I believe some countries sell condensed milk in 400 mL cans — I would just use the whole can anyway for a slightly sweeter pie), 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

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Take your pie shells out of the fridge and divide the mixture between them.  You may end up with extra filling (lord knows I always do).  I emptied it into a smaller pie pan and baked it as-is, for a sort of pumpkin pudding.

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Chuck the pies (and whatever else you now have on the go) in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to 375°F and keep baking for about 35 more minutes, until the pastry is all golden and lovely and you can stick a knife in the centre of the pie and bring it out clean again (i.e. the filling has set).  You can see that our crustless pie and the turnover turned out equally well, though with them in the oven everything took an extra 15 minutes or so to cook. Let the pie cool completely on a rack and refrigerate until ready to serve.  You can heat it up again if you like.  We enjoy ours with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.  Yum!

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Pumpkin Creme Brulee

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Because we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters this year (or any year), I was able to take the pumpkins from our pumpkin-off and cut them up shortly after we carved them in order to make use of all that lovely pumpkin flesh.  And I ended up, after hacking and cutting and boiling and puréeing, with 14 cups of usable pumpkin goo.  So you’re going to get a lot of pumpkin recipes.  I hope you like pumpkin.

I have never made crème brulée before.  But for many years, the Pie and I were in possession of a tiny butane brulée torch.  Then about two years ago I decided we were never going to make crème brulée and I got rid of it.  And THEN, after doing that, I discovered how freaking easy they were to make.  Yes, I did kick myself a little.  Not to fret, though: you can do the bruléeing with the help of your broiler.  It doesn’t do as even a job as a torch, so you have to rotate your ramekins while you’re doing it, but it does work.  And this pumpkin crème brûlée from The Foodess looks too easy and too lovely to resist.  In fact, way easier than regular crème brûlée.  So we’re doing it.

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Preheat your oven to 325°F and set a kettle of water on the boil.  Find a large baking dish and eight 3/4 cup ramekins.  You’ll note here I used four ~1 1/3 cup ramekins.  You may need two baking dishes.

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In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups whipping cream to a simmer.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups pumpkin purée (the plain stuff, not the pie filling), 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 5 egg yolks (save the whites for something awesome), 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, a sprinkle of salt, and 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

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Ever so slowly, dribble the hot cream into the pumpkin mixture and whisk it up.

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Divide the mixture among your ramekins and place them in the baking dishes.  Pour boiling water into the dishes until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

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Then pop that in the oven, middle rack, and bake for about 35 minutes (with my larger ramekins I baked mine for 55 minutes), until the centres of the puddings are just set.

Transfer the puddings to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then chuck them in the fridge for at least two hours.  You can make these the day ahead, and you can even freeze the chilled ramekins to eat later.  Just wrap them up carefully before freezing.

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Just before serving, you can take the puddings out of the fridge (or freezer) and sprinkle the tops of each with about 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (the plain white stuff works best for caramelizing).  If you’ve got one, use a brûlée torch to quickly and evenly caramelize the sugar and then serve immediately.

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I didn’t have a brûlée torch (see above(, so I used my broiler.  Thing is, even if you move the puddings around under the broiler (easier said than done), they still don’t caramelize evenly.  So I had some charred spots and some spots that were hard and crackly, but not brown.  Not to mention that all that time under the broiler heated up the pudding itself, which is supposed to be served cold.  Alas.  But they were still super tasty, with a nice crackly top, despite what this picture may be telling you.

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Pumpkin Spice Cookies

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPPA!

Photo by Ian and Jacky Parker
Badass in a tuxedo at my wedding, holding ice cream.  (Photo by Jackie.)

Today my dad turns SIXTY-FIVE. He’s very well preserved. And still my go-to guy for all information regarding everything. Ever. How to replace a toilet. The exact reasons behind the Red River Rebellion. How to put a motion through City Council.  Which tools are the best for the job at hand. How to use a sextant. The correct procedure for loading and firing a torpedo. Yup, he knows all that stuff.  And more.

Office Reno
Like how to install crown moulding, for instance.

In fact, it’s usually a shock to my brain when I find out that he doesn’t know the answer to something. It’s just too weird.  He’s like prehistoric Google or something.

Dad and Me
Enjoying box seats at the Sens game a few years ago. I actually know more about hockey than he does.  Shocker.  (Photo by Doodle.)

I’m not where he is and he’s not where I am and I have to bake some stuff for the Sweet Treats group at work, so I’m baking today with Dad in mind. He loves cookies pretty much more than anything, and I hope you do, too.  Enjoy!

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I have so much pumpkin puree.  SO VERY MUCH.  I hacked up our carved jobbies from our pumpkin-off, because we only had them out for the day and they were totally salvageable.

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And then I boiled the crap out of them and mashed and blended what came out of it.  I know that I should have roasted them instead but the way that my pumpkin bits worked, that just wasn’t possible.  So boiling it was.

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I ended up with a full 14 cups of puréed pumpkin.  So be warned: there will be several pumpkin-related recipes in the days that follow.

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With the first bit of it, I’m going to make these pumpkin oatmeal spice cookies (recipe from Love From the Oven) for the good folks at work.  So to start, preheat your oven to 350°F and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.

In one bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups puréed pumpkin (if you’re using canned pumpkin, make sure it’s pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has its own sugar and spices already added), 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until well-blended.

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In another bowl, mix together 3 cups rolled oats, 1 1/2 cups flour (you could use gluten-free flour here, as you don’t have to worry about rising), 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and about 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

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I like to use the cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg/allspice/clove combination I found at My Baking Addiction. If you’re feeling adventurous, try grinding and grating your own spices for it.

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Cinnamon is harder to grate than nutmeg.

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Some day I will have a dedicated spice grinder, but until then I just carefully wipe out my coffee grinder and chuck in my allspice and cloves.

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Then you just chuck it in a jar for the next time you need it — which, with the way we’re going, is going to be soon.

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Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.  Your dough is going to be very stiff, so make sure you get everything mixed in well.

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You can add in more spices, as well as raisins, chocolate chips, or nuts.  I decided to add some chocolate chips and pecans for a bit of extra sweetness and crunch.

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Use a spoon to drop the dough onto the baking sheets, and press them down a bit with your fingers (they won’t spread).  Bake them for about 12-15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until they start to brown.

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Store in a sealed container for a few days or freeze for comfort food cravings some time in the winter!

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Chinese Chicken and Pork in False Creek and the Awesomeness of the Internet

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JUL!

Chinese in Gastown

Atlas’s dad has a philosophy that we are born with a spirit and a body.  The body is tied to this earth and will return that way when its time is finished, but the spirit can live on in a new body.  And that spirit is always looking for the good in life, the good people, the good experiences, and so it will actively seek out those who it remembers were good in a previous life.  His family and our family, he says, get along so well because our spirits were friends in a previous life.  It’s a lovely sentiment.

As a child in a military household I moved around quite a bit, and I never stayed in any city longer than five years — until I moved to Ottawa, that is.  So every time we moved I felt like I was starting a whole new life, with new friends, and that my old lives were somehow over.  Visiting the west coast this summer was for me a revisiting of an old life, a way of showing my husband the way I used to be (and I’ll have more on that in a later post).

I had a friend in elementary school when I was living in Esquimalt.  Her name was Jordana* and we were friends from when my family was posted out west in grade three, to when her family, also military, was posted away at the beginning of grade five.  When she moved away I thought I would never see her again.  This was of course before Facebook and even email (this was the early nineties) and so the only way to reach each other would have been through letters, and if you’re never going to see a person again, what’s the point in wasting a stamp?

Our grade four class picture, for embarassment’s sake.  Jordana is third from the left in the centre row, and I’m sixth, with my bad-ass Casio watch and my hefty bangs.  This photo is courtesy of the gentleman sitting directly below me in this shot.

I joined Facebook in 2007, twelve years after leaving the west coast and fifteen years after I had last seen Jordana, and we reconnected over the internet.  At this time I was getting ready to move to Newfoundland with the Pie and she was settled in Vancouver, so it was unlikely we were going to run into each other any time soon.  Even so, we communicated back and forth sporadically and learned we had much in common.

Chinese in Gastown

Then my brother decides to get married out west, and Jordana and I figured this was our chance to finally meet up after TWENTY years apart.  She and her partner Daniel live in False Creek, a nice old area next to the water.  On our last night on the mainland, the Pie and took the SkyTrain from Coquitlam to Vancouver and trailed our way over to their place for dinner.

Chinese in Gastown
Their view of False Creek.

And you know, it was instant chemistry between the four of us (which, if you have ever tried to make friends as a couple, you know is a hard thing to accomplish).  Jordana and I talked our faces off for about four hours straight, while the quieter gentlemen exchanged views on computers and other manly endeavours.  We took a walk along the seawall after dinner, and Jordana and I both took a ton of pictures. Obviously.

Chinese in Gastown

And the food, cooked by Daniel, was excellent (yes, I’m finally getting to the recipe, sorry).  We had an amazingly tender chicken and a barbecued pork dish with the most incredible dipping sauces.  While Daniel’s not super keen to share his recipes, Jordana was very persuasive and so I now have them in my hot little hands.  And while Cait and Jul were here (and since they brought most of the spices from Ottawa for us), we decided to try it out.

For the Chicken:

First you start with a whole chicken, about 1.6kg or 3 1/2lb.  Take off all the fat that you can see and wipe down the inside with a paper towel, or two, to remove any goop in there.  Gross, but worth it, trust me.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Then find yourself a pot large enough to fit a bunch of liquid and a submerged chicken. Into that pot, chuck 1.5L (6 cups) water, 250mL (1 cup) soy sauce, 250mL (1 cup) shaohsing wine (also known as shaoxing), 150g (2/3 cup) light brown sugar, 1 large knob of ginger, peeled and sliced, 3 cloves garlic, sliced, 4 heads of star anise, 2 sticks cinnamon, and 3 pieces dried mandarin peel.

Yeah, that’s a hefty load of ingredients.  Cait and Jul brought the more far-out stuff with them from Ottawa, as I can’t get it here.  Anyway, bring all those ingredients in the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer all that spicy goodness for about 20 minutes.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Then you can submerge the chicken, breast side down, in the pot and raise the heat again to bring it to a boil.  Then turn it down again and simmer for another 20 minutes.

Flip the chicken over and allow it to simmer for a further 3 minutes, then pop a lid on the pot and remove it from the heat.  Let the chicken cool in the stock.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

When the stock is cooled you can take the chicken out.  If you plan to use the stock later (which you really should), then you need to strain it, bring it to a boil again, and then cool it and chuck it in the refrigerator.

As for the chicken, well it’s now up to you to do what you want with it. You can chop it up in a salad, or slice it thickly and re-form it on a plate (which is what we’re going to do).  You can also fry it in peanut oil and serve with salt and pepper and lemon juice.  It goes well with cilantro and the dipping sauce we’re going to make in a minute.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

For the Pork:

This recipe calls for pork neck, which I can’t find here.  I know it’s a poor substitute, because the consistency is all different, but I’m going to use a pork shoulder here.  I’m sorry.  If you can’t get a neck, try to find something with a bit of fat on it, if you can.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

First you want to mix up your marinade.  Take 4 tablespoons fermented bean curd, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 5 tablespoons shaohsing wine, 3 tablespoons yellow bean sauce, 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 4 tablespoons fine sugar, and 3 garlic cloves, minced.  Stir that into a frenzy.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Cait described the Yellow Bean Sauce as looking like “someone threw up in a bottle.” Seems about right.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

I was more grossed out by the fermented bean curd though.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Cut the pork into 4cm (~2″) strips and pour the marinade over the meat.  Leave that for about 2 hours.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Preheat your oven to 240°C (this is 464°F, so I would err on the side of caution and go with 450°F).

Fill a baking dish with water and fit a wire rack over top.  The ones with the folding legs are handy here, as you can use more water, and then it will keep the pork moist. Put the pork onto the rack and cook for 30 minutes.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Remove the pork from the oven and heat up 6 tablespoons honey.  Brush that over the pork and leave it to cool.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

For Sprinkling:

Slice up some fresh cilantro to sprinkle over everything.  As well, mince up some ginger and mix it with some black rice vinegar and leave that to sit for an hour or so — it goes fantastically with the chicken.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Serve the whole thing with some scented rice and some steamed greens.  We fried up some baby bok choy as an accompaniment over jasmine rice.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Chinese Pork and Chicken

*Jordana is a blogger herself, and a much busier person than I am.  She writes about fashion here and here, and about travel here.  She even has her own online clothing store.  Check her out if you’re interested!

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Happy Easter!

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

It’s spring.  Well, I shouldn’t say that.  It’s spring in some parts of Canada.  Here in Newfoundland we are still clearing up snow from our blizzard last week.  In most parts of the country the markets are full to bursting with new spring vegetables: tender carrots, tiny potatoes, fresh peas.  Here in St. John’s it’s time to clean out the dregs of our winter supply, and most produce around here is either flaccid or unripe.  So we make soup.

This soup will be served as a starter at our Easter dinner on Sunday.  If a soup could be considered to be light and fluffy, it would be this one.  In fact (and I may have texted this to the Pie when I made it), I bet if you put the Easter Bunny in a blender and heated him up he would taste a lot like this soup: sweet, a little bit spicy, a hint of ginger, and chock-full of carrots.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup
This recipe is simple, and takes very little time.

I have here 2 bunches of “new” carrots (which in reality were bendy and dried-out), 4 Bosc pears (which I unsuccessfully tried to ripen for three days), a handful of mildly hot peppers, and 2 onions.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Chop those puppies up and toss them in a pot.  Add a whole carton of chicken broth (about 4 cups, or a litre), and top the rest up with water.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Chuck in as well a few teaspoons of minced ginger (two will probably do it, as the minced stuff is wicked strong) and a healthy dollop of dijon mustard.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Add in a few tablespoons of sweet chili sauce as well.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Simmer that like crazy until all the vegetables are tender.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Remove it from the heat and use an immersion blender (or a regular blender) to turn it all into an orange pulp.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

If you’ve picked a really hot pepper for your soup, you might want to serve it with a dollop of sour cream, or maybe some green onions for garnish.  It’s also lovely just as it is.  You can freeze it easily and bring it out whenever you need a taste of spring.

Spicy Spring Carrot Soup

Spiced Cider Gelee

Winter

Winter is a time for cooking comfort food.  Things are warm, spicy, and, usually, on the thick, rich, and heavy side.

Floating Holly Wreath

Why not try something a little different?  How about winter flavours with a lighter twist?

We served these gelled desserts after Christmas dinner, but they would be a great finish to any winter meal.  I don’t have too many pictures of the process, because, well, it was Christmas and I was busy doing other things.  But it’s a simple idea.  It comes from the Holiday 2011 issue of LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine.

In a small pot, pour 1/4 cup apple cider and sprinkle it with 1 envelope unflavoured gelatin. Cook that over low heat, stirring all the while, until the gelatin has completely liquefied.  Set that aside for a spell, and don’t fret if the gelatin starts to set while it’s waiting.

Apple Cider Gelatin

In a larger pot, stir together 2 3/4 cups apple cider, a cinnamon stick, one 1/4″ thick slice of fresh ginger, 10 black peppercorns, and 1/2 teaspoon corriander seeds.  Bring that mixture to a boil, then turn it down to medium and simmer it for 10 minutes or so, until the mixture is spiced and reduced down to 2 cups.

Apple Cider Gelatin

Pour the spiced cider mixture through a sieve into the pot with the gelatin and stir until it’s all combined.  Pour into four little cups (we used some demitasses we had in the basement), and stick a cinnamon stick into each one.  Chill for 2 hours, or until set.

Apple Cider Gelatin

To serve, garnish with whipped cream mixed with maple syrup and a dash of ground cardamom or garam masala.

The Un-Cola

The Un-Cola

I saw this recipe on Freshly Pressed this past summer and was inspired by Krista and Jess to make this recipe from the New York Times (thanks ladies!).

My brother Ando has always been a fan of carbonated beverages.  Specifically the cola variety.  The more caffeine the better (he used to be a bit of a night owl).  Sodas aren’t that great for the teeth, of course,  as they contain a lot of sugar.  The colas especially so.  Ando’s tip for strong dentition: drink sodas only in conjunction with food, and use a straw.  When I saw this recipe, I thought he’d like it.  It’s made of all natural ingredients and contains significantly less sugar than your average can of Coke (which has 39g of sugar in it, the same as 10 sugar cubes).

The Un-Cola

These sorts of natural syrups are a sign that we are trying to return to simpler times, and the creators of this recipe, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, are doing just that (so you can go visit them Ando and tell me how the recipes compare — it’s just over the bridge after all).

So this is his DIY Christmas gift from his little sister (SURPRISE!), which, together with all the other presents for the Manhattan Crew, I am trying to get completed and mailed out before the end of the month — how’s that for organization?

The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, but does require a certain attention to detail.  I also had to do some serious sleuthing around St. John’s to find all the appropriate ingredients, though if that means puttering around Food for Thought and Fat Nanny’s for an hour or two then I really don’t mind.

The Un-Cola

You’ll need to grate the zest from 2 medium oranges, 1 large lime, and 1 large lemon.  I doubled my batch so that the Pie and I would have some to try, and then made up an extra set of dry ingredients so that Ando can cook himself up a refill.  Each batch makes about 3 cups syrup.

The Un-Cola

So I grated a lot of citrus.  I’m going to save it and make a fabulous beverage soon.

The Un-Cola

For the extra dry ingredients, I used a zester, which gets the peel without the bitter pith.

The Un-Cola

Then I heated my oven to 150°F and spread the peel on a baking sheet to dry.

The Un-Cola

It probably cooked for about an hour while I was doing all that other stuff.

The Un-Cola

Take some whole nutmeg and a fine rasp and grate yourself about 1/8 teaspoon of that stuff.  Mmm, smells so good.

The Un-Cola

Crush one section of one star anise pod with a spoon.

The Un-Cola

Cut a vanilla pod so you have a 1 1/2″ section (that’s almost 4cm for you metric folk).  Use a knife to split that section in half lengthwise.

The Un-Cola

You’ll also need 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers, 2 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.  You can get citric acid at stores that sell canning supplies, or try specialty or health food stores.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring all those ingredients to a simmer in 2 cups water.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

The Un-Cola

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar.

The Un-Cola

Plop a colander or strainer on top of that and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth.

The Un-Cola

Pour the contents of the hot pot over the cheesecloth and gather the ends of the cloth together so that all the solids are in a nice little package.  Use a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid from the package against the side of the pot.

The Un-Cola

Stir the syrup occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a container and keep it in the refrigerator.

The Un-Cola

In order for this to last the trip over the sea and land and a river to Manhattan (from one island to another) I decided to can it.  You can see my tips on canning with a stove top canner here.

The Un-Cola

To drink, pour 1 part syrup over ice and mix with 4 parts seltzer or soda water.  It tastes FANTASTIC.  Not like a commercial soda, but one where you can taste all the flavours that went into it.  AMAZING.

The Un-Cola

And here is the little container with the dried peel and all the other dried ingredients (minus the sugar) that Ando will need to make his own batch.

The Un-Cola

O Canada: Maple-Glazed Salmon

Maple Glazed Salmon

You won’t see too many fish or seafood dishes on here, because the Pie won’t eat them.  You can’t do a feature on Canadian cuisine without talking about Canada’s vast ocean resources, so I’ve kind of snuck this one in under the radar.  I discovered the recipe a few years ago when the Pie and I had two other roommates who were a little more into sea creatures than he is, and I made it often.  The plus is that the marinade works really well on pork chops as well, so when I make this I can make a piece of salmon for me and a piece of pork for the Pie and we’re both happy.

Maple syrup forms the basis of this marinade, but the lemon juice, ginger, and soy sauce give the sweetness a bit of a snap.  Quick and easy, too.  I pulled it from an issue of Canadian House & Home a million years ago.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

In a bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup genuine maple syrup, 4 tablespoons light soy sauce (I used organic tamari), 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon minced ginger.  This is enough marinade for 4 pieces of fish.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

You’ll notice here that I butterflied the porkchop I had, just to make it the same thickness as the salmon. That way I could cook them at the same time.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Place your salmon* (or your pork) in a shallow dish and, saving about 1/4 cup of the marinade for later, pour the sauce over the fish.  Refrigerate that for an hour.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Preheat your oven to 450°F.

While that’s heating up (mine takes forever), peel 2 very large carrots and wash 3 very small zucchini.  Or whatever ratio you prefer.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Use a mandolin to slice the vegetables thinly lengthwise.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Plop them in a pot with a few inches of water.  Add a generous pat of butter and some fragrant herbs, like herbes de provence.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Cover and steam for 8-10 minutes, until the carrots are all bendy.

Thinly slice up about 3 tablespoons scallions or green onions.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Spray a glass dish and set your fish in it with a bit of marinade to coat.

Maple Glazed Salmon

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, basting halfway through with some leftover marinade.

Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with some of that 1/4 cup of marinade you saved earlier.  Sprinkle with the sliced onions. Drain the vegetables and serve as well.  Mmmmm … This makes up a little bit for the poutine we had last week, but won’t stand up in the face of what I’ve got planned for you on Friday.  Stay tuned!

Maple Glazed Salmon

*** THE END ***

*If you’re reading this asterisk-ed caveat, you got me: that is actually trout, not salmon.  It was in a big jumbled pile at the seafood counter and I picked it up by mistake, okay?  Sheesh.

Tofu Feature Month: Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu

I FINALLY found silken tofu in St. John’s.  I’ve been looking for it for what feels like forever.  In celebration of my recent discovery, and the Pie’s insistence that he needs to slim down in time for Kristopf’s wedding next July, I have decided to honour the long-standing request of my friend Danger K and start finding new ways to cook with tofu.  You might know Danger K: she recently got married (on our wedding anniversary, no less), and she and her husband planned a big fancy wedding by begging, bartering, and borrowing everything they could.  Their expenses out of pocket?  About two hundred bucks.  You can read about the process on their blog, Project Priceless.  So they’re a little bit famous back in Ottawa.  And I can say that I knew her when.  We went to high school together.  In fact, she had a huge crush on one of my brothers (DON’T DENY IT DANGER K I HAVE PROOF).  Not that I’m going to hold that against her or anything.

Mapo Tofu

So.  Cooking with tofu.

My previous experiences cooking with tofu (not in eating it, just cooking it) focused mainly on tossing cubes of it into Broccofu, Peanut Butter Spaghetti, or the occasional stir-fry.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but’s not using tofu in all its myriad manifestations.  This fall, the Pie and I aim to change our ways, and this recipe is the beginning.  September will be a sort of Tofu Feature Month.

Mapo doufu (mapo tofu) is a traditional spicy dish from the Sichuan province of China and involves sautéing tofu pieces in a suspension of a paste made of beans and chilis.  What I found particularly interesting about this dish is that I normally think of tofu as a protein-replacement for meat, but this recipe calls for a combination of tofu AND beef or pork.  Very unique (for me, at least).

Mapo Tofu

A note on substitutions:  this recipe calls for chili bean paste, a spicy gooey mixture of fermented soy beans and chilis (I’m thinking like a super-hot miso).  I didn’t have such a thing, so I used black bean paste instead with the chilis, which is why my sauce isn’t that signature reddish colour.  The recipe also requires the use of rice wine, which, not being a wine-drinker, I also don’t have, so we used rice wine vinegar instead.  Finally, the recipe I used made little sense and required some serious moderation, so I haven’t linked you to it.   I wasn’t a huge fan.

Start by making up enough rice for two people.

Mapo Tofu

Drain and pat dry one block soft tofu (I used extra-firm silken tofu because I wanted to see what it was like).  Cut it into 1″ cubes.

Mapo Tofu

Slice up 4-5 green onions and save about 1/4 of the green tips (sliced) for garnish.

Mapo Tofu

In a skillet or wok over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté 4oz ground beef or pork until cooked.  Drain and set aside.

In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.  Add 1 teaspoon minced ginger, the green onion that isn’t what you saved for garnish, 2 whole dried chilis, and 1 teaspoon ground peppercorns (Sichuan if you’ve got ’em).  Cook that for about a minute.

Mapo Tofu

Add the ground meat back in, as well as 3 tablespoons chili bean paste, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar.  Cook that for another minute or so, just so everything can get acquainted.

Mapo Tofu

Add in the cubed tofu as well as 1/4 cup vegetable stock (or beef, or pork) and let that simmer for 15 minutes.   Stir occasionally, but don’t let the tofu fall apart.

Mapo Tofu

When it’s nearing done, dissolve 1 tablespoon corn starch in a little bit of water and pour that in as well.  Stir gently until it thickens.

Mapo Tofu

Serve over rice and garnish with the remaining green onions.  SPICY!

Mapo Tofu

Sweet and Sour Pork Meatballs

To accompany the legendary Chocolate Moose Cake on Rusty and Mags’ inaugural Newfoundland dinner, the Pie and I decided to try something new and accompany it with something old.

These meatballs come from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen and are super scrummy.  There are lots of ingredients involved but the process is simple and they can be made ahead of time, which is great.  They also make for great hors d’oeuvres, if you put them on little pointy sticks.  Or plastic swords.  With paper umbrellas.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Crack an egg into a bowl and scramble the sucker until it’s nice and frothy.

Plop in the following:

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko but it doesn’t really matter)

1/4 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons grated carrot (I used one whole small carrot here)

1 teaspoon grated ginger (I used powdered because I had no fresh and no minced – if you’re using powder use a little extra)

Mix that all together, then add in 1 lb lean ground pork and smush that all together.

Scoop the pork mixture up with a tablespoon and roll it into balls.  Place the balls (I ended up with exactly 24) on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until they are no longer pink inside, about 15 minutes.  

Reduce the oven heat to 350°F and leave it on.

Meanwhile, you can start your sweet and sour sauce.

In another bowl, whisk together the following:

1 cup pineapple juice (I like to keep several small cans of this handy, for use in sweet sauces and also in starters for sourdoughs.)

1/3 cup ketchup (we used barbecue sauce, because the Pie won’t let ketchup across the threshold of our house)

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon corn starch

2 teaspoons grated ginger (again, I used powdered)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Chop up one small onion and sauté it in a small saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil until it is tender.  I added some more green onions in, just for colour.

Add in the sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes or until the sauce is thickened (that’s the corn starch working there).

Add in your meatballs and stir them around to coat them.

Now, here is where you can stop, if you wish.  You can let the meatballs and sauce cool completely, seal them in an airtight container or freezer bag and then refrigerate or freeze them until you are ready to use them.  Just make sure they’re thawed completely before you do the final cooking.
Transfer the meatballs and sauce to a baking dish and bake in your 350°F oven, stirring once, for 25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly.  You can sprinkle the meatballs with more green onions for garnish, if you wish.

We served the meatballs with fresh bread from the Georgestown Bakery and our favourite Hash Wednesday potatoes (minus the chicken).  Because it’s Wednesday after all.