Monthly Archives: April 2015

Salads I Have Known & Loved: Strawberry & Bocconcini Salad

Light and summery and good for the tummy!

Light and summery and good for the tummy!

During the week, I eat a salad for lunch every day. It’s easy to pack the night before, and the fibre helps me with my IBS issues. But I get really bored with the same salad each day, and even switching up the dressings gets boring after a while. So I’ve been experimenting with different salad toppings.

I made this Strawberry and Bocconcini salad for lunch a few days ago and it was perfect! Fresh and summery, and topped with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing, it was a nice, light lunch. I also packed one for the DH and he enjoyed his too.

Want to make one yourself? Easiest thing ever.

  • Put a bunch of lettuce in a bowl.
  • Top with sliced strawberries.
  • Drop a bunch of bocconcini on top.
  • Drizzle raspberry vinaigrette over it all.

Enjoy!

Next Post: Memories of Meals Past — in this case, brunch from a few weeks ago. French toast with homemade oatmeal bread!

Triple Homemade: Lemon Curd-Filled Limoncello Cupcakes

Goes down smoothly! (Both the limoncello shot and the cupcakes.)

Goes down smoothly! (Both the limoncello shot and the cupcakes.)

My bake-a-long group is baking the Limoncello Cupcakes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi cookbook this week, and oh, there’s just so much to tell you! So fair warning, today’s post might be a little long-ish. But the luscious photos will have you drooling all the way through! (I hope. I’m trying to improve my photography skills — if you drool, my mission will have been accomplished! Please drool.)

The key ingredient in today’s recipe is limoncello, a traditional Italian liqueur. My first taste of limoncello was when I was travelling in Italy a few years ago. I had stopped over in Rome and tried my first shot of limoncello, then went to view the Coliseum by moonlight. I highly recommend it! Seeing the Coliseum by moonlight, that is. Not so much the limoncello. Why? I don’t know. It’s just not my favourite flavour. A combination of astringent and sweet, it just doesn’t make me crave more after the first sip.

Until I made these cupcakes. I totally crave these cupcakes!

But first things first. I didn’t have limoncello in the house, and I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle just to use a few tablespoons in this recipe, so…I made some!

Limoncello in the house! Or at least in process.

Limoncello in the house! Or at least in process.

In Which I Make Limoncello

I made this last week, and it’s surprisingly easy! You just take some vodka, stuff it full of lemon peel, let that sit for a week or more; strain it, and add in simple syrup. Bam, DONE! I used this recipe, from The Kitchn, but modifying the amounts. I used a cup of vodka and the peel of three lemons, and let it sit for a week. The liquid turned yellow within days (I totally checked it every day). After a week, I made a simple syrup from 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. sugar, and mixed it with the vodka (after straining out the peel). I chilled it overnight, and voila, limoncello!

As I had made just enough limoncello to fill a half pint jar, and the cupcake recipe only calls for 5 tbsps. or less, I still have at least half the amount left. Even taking into account the fact that the DH and I taste-tested it. (For quality control purposes only. Really!) I shall likely use the leftover limoncello for  baking in the future, instead of artificial lemon flavouring. Up with whole foods! Homemade liqueur counts as a whole food, right?

Lemon curd output! Less a taste test or three.

Lemon curd output! Less a taste test or three.

In Which I Make Lemon Curd

Dorie says that you can fill the cupcakes with marmalade, dolloping a little bit in between bits of batter just before baking. I didn’t have any marmalade in the house and (can you guess where this is going?) I didn’t want to buy a whole container for just a few teaspoons, so…I made lemon curd last night! Because lemon curd is much quicker to make than marmalade, at least in my opinion!

I used Alton Brown’s instructions for lemon curd, but The Barefoot Contessa’s lemon curd ingredients. Mostly. I just left out the lemon zest she calls for. The recipe made enough to fill two half-pint jars, and one quarter pint jar. Plus a few teaspoons (ok, tablespoons!) for sampling.

LIke jelly doughnuts, but classier!

LIke jelly doughnuts, but classier!

In Which I Actually Make the Limoncello Cupcakes

The actual cupcakes are pretty easy, compared to some of the more complicated recipes that I’ve made from Dorie’s cookbook. There’s no special technique to making the cupcakes, aside from rubbing the lemon zest with the sugar. That’s a step that I never did before reading Dorie’s recipes, but it really does seem to get the best flavour out of citrus. Aside from making one’s fingers smell delish!

Once the cupcakes are baked, you brush them with a simple syrup and limoncello mixture while still warm, and it forms a sort of sticky glaze on top. After the cupcakes had cooled, I used a strawberry huller to scoop out the centre of the cupcake, and then filled those holes with the lemon curd. The butter cream icing is then piped on top. Dorie says to let the iced cupcakes sit outside for a little while to form a sugary, crunchy coating on the top, but I just did my usual ye-of-little-patience thing and stuck them in the freezer for a few minutes. Then…I ate them!

Being a loving wife (*pats self on back*), I braved the DH’s man-cave to bring him one of the cupcakes. Even though he had licked the batter from the beaters, the leftover icing from the mixer, and taste-tested the limoncello for me, he still enjoyed eating the actual limoncello cupcake! I think that says a lot about what a nice flavour it is.

A few of my favourite things: sipping, eating, and reading about food. Ah, sweet joy of life!

A few of my favourite things: sipping, eating, and reading about food. Ah, sweet joy of life!

I also packed away a couple of the cupcakes for him to take to his boss. Apparently whenever I make desserts for him to bring to work, his boss is away, and his boss is starting to joke that if it keeps happening, he’ll take it personally. So I told the DH that I had packed away two cupcakes for him to bring to his boss. Unless he only wanted one, I asked? “No, two!” he said, “Definitely two!” There was a definite twinkle in the DH’s eyes as he said it, so I suspect he might have designs on the second one. *grin* It would make a lovely, sugary afternoon pick-me-up!

And the leftover lemon curd? I turned that into lemon meringue tartlets, but I’ll talk all about that in another post; I think this one has gone on long enough!

Next Post: Probably a Salads-I-Have-Known-and-Loved post, followed by the triple-homemade French toast post (ha! It rhymes!) that I’ve been promising.

All About the Food(ie Books): “This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?” by Patrick Di Justo

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a voracious reader. So when I came across something called Blogging for Books, I was all over that! Especially once I realized that they had books about food, that I could get for free. FREE BOOKS ABOUT FOOD! Basically my dream, because a) books and b) food.

I’m a hardcore bookworm. I can easily read a couple of books in an evening, and often do. While I’m not a speed-reader, I think my record to date for reading a book is 45 minutes for a pocketbook paperback. Which is actually pretty darn fast!

That said, it took me a couple of weeks to get through this book, mostly because I was just reading it whenever I took public transit anywhere. It’s so easy to pop my little e-reader into a purse and then pull it out. Definitely less bulky than carrying a paperback around. Although…I confess to actually preferring paperbacks. I just seem to absorb them differently, you know? I remember what was on which side of the page, and I think that helps me remember things better. But maybe I’m just a visual learner.

This ties into the book that I was reading, which was “This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth: From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets of What’s Inside Everyday Products”, by Patrick Di Justo.

The version that I was reading was apparently an uncorrected proof, and didn’t have any pictures, although it did refer to illustrations. I wonder whether the fact that it was an uncorrected proof affected the layout of the book as well, because the version I got was pretty awful. Very disorienting to the reader, with oddly placed sidebars. I’m sure if I saw the final version, or a paper version, I’d have a different reaction, but on that alone, I’m giving the book a bit of a thumbs down. Which is too bad, because there’s so much great information in it!

The author talks about what goes into the food that we eat such as Cool Whip, Hot Pockets Pepperoni Pizza, and Red Bull, as well as what ingredients are in some other household products like Axe Deodorant, Febreze, and Play-Doh. I have to say, I’m not a big eater of processed foods, so I don’t think I actually eat any one of the foods that he wrote about. Still…it’s interesting to note what makes up the food that I DON’T eat! (Side note: This is why I’m all about the home-cooked whole foods. Most of the time, anyway!)

There’s one more criticism that I have to level about this book, and that is that it’s unclear whether some of the items that he lists are actually ingredients or just component parts. Take coffee for example. He writes about “coffee”, and lists all these different chemicals, including putrescine and 2-ethylphenol. It’s unclear though – does each coffee company put those chemicals into the coffee, or are those just the chemical breakdown of a coffee bean? Because anything is going to sound horrible if you list all the chemical components of it. Even the most organic of whole foods will sound gross if you chemically analyze it. Upon rereading, it becomes clear that he is indeed talking about the chemical breakdown of coffee, as opposed to a certain brand, but it’s not immediately obvious.

For some items that he talks about, like Cool Whip, it’s very clear that he’s talking about the ingredients, and it’s fascinating! I love that he talks about the “Backstory” of how he got the scoop on that particular item. When he talks about googling old ads from 1956 to get the original ingredient list for A1 Steak Sauce you realize how dedicated to his craft he is, and well, it’s just plain fascinating!

Would I recommend this book? Well, yes, but with reservations. One, read the book in paperback, so that the awkward spacing is fixed. Two, be aware that while he writes about the component parts of items, those aren’t necessarily the ingredients, but the, well, component parts. And once you know that…enjoy! You’ll never look at these items the same way again!

________________________________________

Btw, a disclaimer: the picture of the book at the top of the post? It’s an Amazon Affiliates link, meaning that if you click on it and end up buying the book, I’d get a small commission. I doubt anyone will use the link, but in order to be all ethical and stuff, I’m being totes transparent. Yay, ethics! Actually, the only reason I wanted to post the picture, is that I think people prefer posts with pictures, and I wanted to get be able to legally use the image. I thought about just taking a picture of my e-reader, but that’s kind of hard to do, and also, booorrrrrring! Anyway, back to food, yummy food! And tomorrow’s post.

_________________________________________

Next Post: Memories of Meals Past, in this case, last Saturday’s brunch – French toast from SUPER-scratch!

Four-Layer White Lasagna with Oven-Roasted Vegetables, because YUM!

Cheesy goodness just waiting to be eating!

Cheesy goodness just waiting to be eating!

I heart my veggies, but I also heart pasta. And cheese sauce. And cheese. And since I had zucchinis and eggplant in the fridge, four-layer veggie lasagna was born!

This dish is a cheesy, saucy way to get your vegetables while still managing to eat pasta for dinner. Or lunch. Or both! There’s a bit of olive tapenade in one of the layers, and that gives the dish a hint of piquancy, while still being super-creamy. I ate a piece right after I took it out of the oven, and despite it being 11 pm as I type this, I’m tempted to have another slice because it’s so creamy and just plain yummy!

If you want to eat delicious, creamy, cheesy lasagna, while still knowing that you’re eating lots of veggies too, try this recipe!

Smothering the oven-roasted zucchini with the parmesan white sauce. Don't worry about spreading the sauce to the corners -- with many more saucy layers to come, it'll work itself out!

Smothering the oven-roasted zucchini with the parmesan white sauce. Don’t worry about spreading the sauce to the corners — with many more saucy layers to come, it’ll work itself out!

Four-Layer Vegetable Lasagna

  • 3 zucchinis
  • 1 eggplant
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 1 c. grated cheese (mozzarella is ideal)
  • 1/2 c. olive oil

Parmesan White Sauce

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 4 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 c. cream
  • 3 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. parmesan cheese (grated is best, shelf-stable is a-ok too)

Olive & Ricotta Filling

  • 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. olive tapenade

Prepare the vegetables first: Slice the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and place on a plate for half an hour to draw the bitter juices out. When they’re wet with the juices, rinse them off and mix them with half the olive oil. Slice the zucchini and mix with the remaining olive oil. Place on cookie sheets and bake in a 400 degree oven until golden on the bottom. Flip them over and bake until golden on the top.

Prepare the Parmesan White Sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in the flour and let cook over a medium heat. When the flour/butter mixture has bubbled for several minutes, whisk in the cream, followed by the milk. It will seem a bit watery, but keep cooking it, and it will thicken up nicely. When it’s the thickness that you like, stir in the parmesan cheese, and set the sauce aside.

Boil the pasta until ready, and grate the cheese.

Prepare the Olive and Ricotta Filling: Mix together the ricotta with the egg, and stir in the olive tapenade.

Put it all together: Spread out 1/2 c. of the parmesan white sauce in a lasagna pan, and cover with three of the lasagna noodles. Place a layer of the zucchini over the noodles, and follow that with another layer of white sauce. Top with a layer of noodles. Spread the ricotta and olive filling over those noodles, and cover with another layer of noodles. Layer the eggplant overtop, and top with some more white sauce. Place the final layer of noodles on top, spread the remaining white sauce over that, and top with the grated cheese. Bake in a 400 degree oven, until the cheese is golden brown on top and the sauce is bubbling, about half an hour. Cool slightly, plate, and devour!

Plated and perfect for a midnight snack! Or lunch. Whichever comes first!

Plated and perfect for a midnight snack! Or lunch. Whichever comes first!

I think the tastiness of this dish is due to a couple of things. One is the addition of the cream to the parmesan white sauce; it really makes the dish much more creamy, even though not a large amount of cream is used. As well, the olive tapenade ups the savoury factor. You can leave it out if you don’t like olives, but you don’t really taste olives — it just adds a bit of flavour. And, oven-roasting the vegetables just makes the dish more flavourful overall. Oh, I can’t explain it, it’s just a super-yummy dish. You’ll have to make it yourself — you’ll see!

Next Post: Blogging for Books…about food. And books about what goes into the food that you put in your mouth!

Linking up at Meal Plan Monday! And at Southern Bite!

Life of Pie, Part II: Cranberry Crackle Tart and Pectin-Free Jam!

Not a mirror image, but still impressive! And most importantly -- tasty!

Not a mirror image, but still impressive! And most importantly — tasty!

Yesterday’s pie recipe was one that I’d be promising you all for a while, but here’s one that I’ve been promising myself for a while! As you know, I belong to an on-line bake-a-long group, baking our way through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi cookbook, and we make a recipe every two weeks. However, early on in the project, I had to miss a week and I’ve been wanting to try that recipe ever since.

This Tuesday was Rewind Tuesday with the Doristas, where we got to make a recipe that we had missed, or hadn’t perfected. Since all the recipes I make are perfect (am ignoring the laughter from the peanut gallery, thank you very much), today I’m making the Cranberry Crackle Tart that everyone else made around Thanksgiving. It’s a cranberry-spotted and meringue-filled tart, with a layer of strawberry jam at the bottom, and it looks tres fancy!

The first step is the dough. Ignore the lumps of brown sugar. Actually, they were deliberate! Er, yes...deliberate!

The first step is the dough. Ignore the lumps of brown sugar. Actually, they were deliberate! Er, yes…deliberate!

And of course it wouldn’t be a Baking Chez Moi recipe at my place if I didn’t have to substitute at least one ingredient, and this recipe was no exception to the rule. I didn’t have any strawberry jam, but that didn’t stop me — I just made my own! What I didn’t have though, and couldn’t make, was white sugar. So I used brown sugar, because sugar = sugar, right? Um…maybe, kinda, sort-ish, as you’ll see!

First things first. The jam! I had some strawberries in the freezer from when I went strawberry picking back at the end of last summer, so I knew I could make some jam. I didn’t have white sugar though, and I didn’t have enough brown sugar for both the tart AND the jam, so I looked around my kitchen. And…honey! I had honey! That would work, right? A quick googling of strawberry honey jam resulted in this recipe, from The Nourishing Home blog.

The second step: le jam! Hostess gifts, here we come!

The second step: le jam! Hostess gifts, here we come!

I wasn’t sure how well the strawberry jam would turn out, but I got to use my new canning funnel for the first time, which made me happy! And the jam turned out pretty well, too. There’s no pectin in it, but the cranberries (!) have natural pectin that helps set up the jam. It isn’t as firm as your standard pectin-filled jam, but I actually prefer it that way. And the mild tartness of the cranberries offsets the sweetness of the honey, so it becomes a more refreshing strawberry jam. I recommend the recipe!

I made the tart dough using brown sugar, and then while the jam set, I blind-baked the pie. The dough actually made both a pie and two little tarts. Dorie says to use the leftover dough to make a turnover, but I like tartlets, so two tartlets it was! Then I spread the freshly made jam in the freshly baked pie shells, and whipped up some meringue…with more brown sugar.

Step three: putting it all together, while looking farm fresh!

Step three: putting it all together, while looking farm fresh!

Once the meringue was spread in the pie, I realized that I had left out the cranberries from the meringue so I a) panicked and b) dropped them on top of the meringue and pushed them in. It looked fine, so I popped them into the oven, and started the timer. Dorie said to bake it for an hour, but after a half hour, they were quite brown on top so I pulled them out. I’m sure that part of the brownness was from the brown sugar, but I wonder if any of the other Doristas who made this tart found that it browned quickly too.

The most important step: eating it all! (So. Good.)

The most important step: eating it all! (So. Good.)

The verdict? I’ll let the words of the DH stand as testament. I told him that I was going to bring in the big pie to my work tomorrow, and plated us each one of the smaller tarts. We sat down and took a bite.

Me: It turned out pretty well, huh? Do you like it?

DH: No, I don’t think it’s very good. Not enough sugar in the crust. 

Me: *crushed* Really? You don’t like it?

DH: *straight face* No, you shouldn’t bring it to work. I’ll make the sacrifice and eat it all myself.

What a prince, ladies and gentleman. A true hero for our times. So yes, was delicious! It’s a nice contrast between tart and sweet, soft and crunchy. I almost wish I wasn’t going to bring it in to work — I sort of want to eat it all myself!

Next Post: Not sure yet. Maybe lasagna? I have ricotta cheese, mozzarella, eggplant, zucchini, and noodles. Maybe I’ll whip up a sauce and layer it all together, then share the recipe with you. Mmm, yes, that’s what I’ll do!