Friday, March 23, 2012

Minted Mandarin and Strawberry Coolers
use the best of two seasons

It’s a drink that dips beautifully into two produce seasons, and it’s my official recommendation for a drink for Easter brunch.
   Minted Mandarin and Strawberry Coolers (click for the recipe) from Martha Stewart Living magazine make use of juice from mandarin oranges, which are just finishing up their season in the sun, and strawberries, whose season has just begun.
   Along with the third and final ingredient of mint, a wonderful, refreshing combination of flavors is created.
   There are three other appealing qualities of this drink:
   - There is no added sugar – just the natural sugars in the oranges and strawberries. You’d never guess that sugar hasn’t been added, though – it’s just the perfect amount of sweetness.
   - It’s non-alcoholic, good for a family gathering.
   - It’s easy to make.
   However, the recipe does require an absolute ton of small mandarin oranges to make the eight -10 drinks the recipe yields.
   The recipe says 32 mandarins are needed, but it means big mandarin oranges, not the small ones that are most typically available.
   I bought a bag of small mandarins, and juiced the entire bag to make just two drinks!
   If you do plan make this for a crowd, you’ll need a lot, and I mean a lot, of small mandarin oranges.
   I recommend using an electric juicer to juice the oranges; doing it by hand will be far too frustrating and time-consuming. You don’t need a fancy juicer, just a cheap $10 one from the small appliance aisle.
   You can get a head-start on these drinks by juicing the mandarins in advance and storing the juice in the fridge. Be sure to strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer as the recipe says.
   To make the drinks, strawberries are divided among eight- to 10-ounce glasses (I used three large berries in each glass). Two mint leaves are added, and the strawberries and mint are muddled until the berries are crushed and juicy. You can use a mojito muddler to do this, or the handle of a wooden spoon works fine.
   Ice cubes are put in the glasses, then mandarin orange juice is poured on top.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Easy Asian soup recipes dress up
store-bought chicken broth

This time of year, early spring, one of my favorite things to make and eat is a bowl of Asian-inspired soup  full of tender meat and noodles.
   But I don’t have the time or inclination to make my own broth, so I appreciate a recipe that can take store-bought chicken broth and effectively dress it up and boost its flavor with some choice ingredients.
   I have two terrific easy recipes to share that can do this.

   The first is Sliced Pork, Chinese Broccoli, and Soba Noodle Soup (click for the recipe) from Martha Stewart Living magazine.
   Don’t be intimidated by the “Chinese Broccoli” portion of the recipe’s title. It’s hard to find, but you can easily substitute something else. I used Chinese cabbage, which is much easier to find, or you could likely use bok choy.
   The soba noodles in the recipe can be found in the Asian foods section of well-stocked supermarkets, and some health or speciality foods stores.
   In this recipe, fresh ginger and minced garlic add flavor to the chicken broth, which provides a warm, welcoming backdrop to the soba noodles, pork and greens.
   The soba noodles are cooked in boiling water, drained and transferred to an ice-water bath, then tossed with some sesame oil.
   More sesame oil is heated in a Dutch oven or large pot, and the ginger and garlic are cooked briefly until fragrant. Store-bought chicken broth and water is added, the mixture is brought to a boil, and the Chinese broccoli or another green is simmered in it until crisp-tender.
   The heat is reduced, and sliced pork tenderloin and soy sauce are added and the soup simmered until the pork is just cooked through.
   To serve, the noodles and soup are divided among bowls.

   The second Asian soup recommendation I have is Chinese Dumpling Soup (click for the recipe) from Food Network Magazine.
   This super-easy weeknight recipe makes use of frozen Chinese dumplings, readily available at many supermarkets.
   The first steps of this recipe are the ones that boost the chicken broth’s flavor. The broth, fresh ginger, soy sauce, Shoahsing rice cooking wine or dry sherry, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and salt are brought to a boil in a soup pot, then the heat is reduced and the stock left to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
   Thinly-sliced carrots are added, then the dumplings, and finally scallions (also called green onions or spring onions) and spinach at various intervals.
   We skipped the optional cilantro – my husband and I both hate the stuff!
   Serve with chili sauce on the side if desired.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chicken Cacciatore recipe offers a way to please mushroom-haters, but I say to heck with them

I’ve never had to engage in “dinner subterfuge” to trick someone into eating something I’ve made.
   This is likely because I don’t have children to whom to serve my cooking, my husband isn’t a picky eater, and most other people trust that I won’t kill them with what I’ve made.
   But I have heard people lament they wish their significant other would try different food items, and that they wish they had a way to hide those items in dishes.
   Grace Parisi, developer of the Chicken Cacciatore (click for the recipe) recipe I’m recommending today, offers a way to hide the mushrooms in the dish from mushroom-haters. It is from her introduction to the recipe that I take the term “dinner subterfuge.”
   Parisi writes that, instead of using fresh mushrooms in the dish, dried porcini mushrooms can be soaked, and the water in the recipe replaced with the soaking liquid.
   This is ostensibly to trick mushroom-hating people, yet still keep the earthy flavor added by mushrooms.
   I know there are adults out there who hate mushrooms, and perhaps there are children who hate them, too.
   However, I must object with Parisi’s suggestion of leaving the mushrooms out.
   I would never leave out these lovely fungi from a dish just to please mushroom-haters!
   I say keep the mushrooms, and the mushroom-haters can pick them out. The haters might even eat accidently eat the mushrooms, as they are covered in a deep, dark tomato sauce, and discover they, *gasp*, like them.
   This is dinner subterfuge on its own, I suppose, but I like this method better.
   Whatever advice you end up taking, this dish will be a success. It has a comforting aura about it, and can easily be made on a weeknight.
   And leftovers warm up beautifully in the microwave.
   Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are browned in a skillet, and are transferred to a plate.
   Chopped onion, minced garlic, sliced mushrooms and finely-chopped fresh rosemary are put in the skillet and browned, then tomato paste, puréed canned Italian tomatoes and water (or the mushroom water), are added and the mixture is simmered.
   Balsamic vinegar is stirred in to finish the dish.

Friday, March 16, 2012

World Peace in a chocolate cookie?

When I served World Peace Cookies (click for the recipe) to my co-workers and others in the building where I work, I laughed about the name every time and said: “’Cause that’s all you need for world peace: A good cookie.”
   That’s the opinion of Richard Gold, anyway, a neighbour of baking whiz Dorie Greenspan. She writes in her cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours that Richard said a daily dose of the cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.
   I don’t know if these cookies can wipe out mankind’s tendency to be warlike, but they are darn good – an intense chocolate treat.
   They’re also a little tricky to make.
   These cookies are members of the sablé family. This means they are pleasantly sandy in texture, but because of that, it also means they can crumble when you're trying to make them. It's not the kind of cookie to make with the kids.
   The dough relies on chilling to come together firmly before it is sliced into cookies and baked.
   Making the dough and chilling it is a snap – it’s trying to slice it without it crumbling that’s the hard part.
   I tried to be delicate and not squish the dough as I sliced it, but the dough was having none of it.
   I was only able to slice about five nice cookies. For the other cookies, I had to gather up the crumbled dough, put it in a small pile on a cookie sheet and push it together to form a cookie.
   I did end up getting a nice batch of cookies, but having to form the dough piles into circles took much more time that it would have if I’d just been able to slice them.
   Next time I make these cookies, I may put the dough logs in the freezer for a bit, instead of just the fridge, to make sure they will be nice and firm to slice.
   To make the dough, butter, golden brown sugar, vanilla and sea salt are blended together with an electric mixer, then a mixture of flour, cocoa powder and baking soda is added and mixed in. Chopped chocolate is mixed in.
   The recipe I linked to above on the epicurious website says that if the resulting dough is crumbly, knead it lightly in a bowl to form a ball.
   Instead of doing this, I followed the directions in Greenspan’s Baking book and turned the crumbly dough out onto the counter, then pushed it all together to form a ball. I didn’t knead it at all – Greenspan says to work the dough as little as possible for best texture.
   The dough is divided in half, and each half is placed on a sheet of plastic wrap, formed into a log, and chilled until firm, at least three hours.
   The dough logs are sliced into ½-inch thick rounds and placed on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
   After they’re baked, the cookies are transferred to racks to cool.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bok Choy Skillet Supper - for times
when red meat's got you rattled

It seems suitable that I decided to write about a vegetarian dish today, the same day when red meat was again getting a bad rap in the news.
   “Eating red meat daily will kill you sooner,” screamed the headline on the Toronto Sun’s website, going for the jugular.
   It was reported today (March 13, 2012), that research done by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests even a moderate consumption of red meat – as little as one serving a day – poses a more serious health risk than previously thought.
   The study showed that eating one serving a day of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13 per cent increased risk in premature death; eating one serving a day of processed red meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 20 per cent increased risk of premature death.
   My husband and I eat a diet that includes red meat about once or twice a week. We try to vary things up with dishes made of fish, chicken, vegetables and fruit. We’ve also tried recipes using grains, such as Bok Choy Skillet Supper (click for the recipe) from Vegetarian Times magazine.
   It’s a vegetarian dish we tried recently that pleased us both.
   Bok choy halves are steamed over a bed of bulgur. The bulgur has a slighty “meaty” texture to it, giving the dish some depth.
   We couldn’t find bulgur in the supermarket, but found it in bulk at a health foods store. The recipe also called for mushroom broth; we used store-bought vegetable broth instead.
   This dish is easy to make, but is made even easier by the fact everything is cooked in one skillet.
   Mushrooms are cooked in garlic oil in a skillet, then halved cherry or grape tomatoes are put in and cooked for about two minutes. The mushrooms and tomatoes are transferred to a plate.
   More oil is added to the skillet, and chopped shallots are cooked in it for a few minutes. One cup of bulgur is added and stirred until the grains are coated with oil, then broth, a thyme spring, and water are added. The skillet is covered and the mixture inside simmered for five minutes.
   Halves of small bok choy are arranged on top of the bulgur, and the mushrooms and tomatoes are sprinkled in between the halves. The skillet is covered and the mixture simmered for five minutes more.
   The skillet is removed from heat and left to stand for 10 minutes. Servings are sprinkled with thyme leaves and drizzled with garlic oil.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Irish Coffee Sundaes with Caramel Whiskey Sauce: Decadence on St. Patrick's Day

With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, I thought it was perfect time to pass along the recipe for Irish Coffee Sundaes with Caramel Whiskey Sauce (click for the recipe).
   I made this dessert for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and it was incredibly delicious. Homemade caramel sauce flavored with whiskey is poured on store-bought coffee ice cream (buy the good stuff) and sprinkled with walnuts.
   However, my husband, although he agreed the warm sauce tasted very good, didn’t like the fact it practically turned into taffy a few minutes after it was poured onto the cold ice cream.
   I had no problem at all with its taffy-like consistency, and I wasn’t trying to be contrary about the matter, either.
   Because of a confusing direction in the recipe, it’s possible I cooked the caramel sauce just a wee bit too long, causing it to become taffy-like on the cold ice cream faster than it might have.
   After the initial cooking of the sugar and water, the saucepan is removed from the heat and whiskey, cream and salt are added. The mixture bubbles up.
   The recipe says to return the pan to heat and simmer, stirring, until caramel is dissolved and the sauce is smooth.
   This direction doesn’t make sense because it makes you wonder what caramel there is to dissolve. There is no hard caramel, just a caramel sauce. Here is where I likely made a misstep, cooking it too long to see if the sauce would become smoother. It didn’t.
   Borrowing from my experience of making caramel sauce successfully in another recipe, my advice is to add the whiskey, cream and salt, and cook for only about 30 more seconds. Even if the mixture is still bubbling up, don’t worry about it and take it off the heat – the bubbling will subside soon.
   Know too, that the copy of the recipe I made was from a Gourmet magazine special publication that didn’t include the coffee-nut crisp included in the recipe I’ve linked to on The recipe I used simply suggested sprinkling chopped walnuts on the caramel-topped ice cream.
   So I can’t tell you how the crisp turns out, but I bet it’s mighty delicious.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dorie Greenspan's baking recipes finally
make it into my week with Cinnamon Squares

Recently I occurred to me that it was high time I tried a baking recipe from Dorie Greenspan.
   While I’ve tried a terrific recipe from Greenspan before, it was for a summer dinner dish (Grilled Scallops and Nectarines with Corn and Tomato Salad).
   Greenspan is also a baking whiz, the author of Baking with Julia for Julia Child.
   I have a copy of Greenspan’s 2006 book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, but just never got around to looking at it properly until recently. (Tuesdays with Dorie, however, an online baking club driven by food bloggers, has been baking its way through the book for literally years now).
   The first recipe I decided to try from the book is Cinnamon Squares (click for the recipe). It was a good one to choose, because they are an absolute delight.
   They’re a charming combination of soft cinnamon cake sandwiching a layer of cinnamon, espresso powder, chocolate and sugar and a frosting of melted bittersweet chocolate and butter.
   The recipe is very easy to make and completely family friendly.
   I did puzzle over one thing about it, though: Its title, Cinnamon Squares. In my mind, this is more accurately called Cinnamon Cake. I always think of squares, in terms of baking, as pieces that are much denser, harder and smaller than the cake produced by this recipe.
   But, as Shakespeare wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and in this case, that’s exactly right (and taste as sweet, too).
   Although the cake is still very good for a few days after being made, I personally found it to be best on the day it was baked. Perhaps if I had stored the cake in the fridge it would have done a bit better in the days after baking.
   Flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon are whisked together in one bowl, while whole milk, eggs and vanilla are whisked together in another. The liquid ingredients are poured over the flour mixture and gently stirred, then melted butter is folded in.
   Half of the batter is poured into an 8x8” baking pan lined with parchment or wax paper, and is sprinkled with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon and instant espresso powder (available in the coffee section of the supermarket). The sugar-cinnamon layer is covered by the rest of the batter and the top of the cake is smoothed.
   The cake is baked for 35 to 40 minutes, left to rest for 15 minutes and then unmolded onto a rack. It’s left to cool to room temperature.
   To make the frosting, finely-chopped bittersweet chocolate and butter are put in a heatproof bowl that’s placed over a pan of simmer water. The mixture is stirred gently until it’s melted, and then is spread over the cake. The frosting is left to set at room temperature.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chocolate and pretzels and peanuts, oh my!

This recipe has a name that some readers may find offensive.

Chocolate and pretzels are a match made in heaven, something you know if you’ve ever eaten a chocolate-dipped pretzel.
   But what if a few more things are added to the chocolate and pretzels, like butterscotch chips and peanuts?
   Then you’ve got pure awesomeness, otherwise known as Rebecca's Psycho PMS Chocolate Balls (click for the recipe).
   The chocolate balls come to us from Nadia Giosia, or Nadia G, host of Bitchin’ Kitchen on Food Network Canada and the Cooking Channel.
   In her latest cookbook, Cooking for Trouble, Nadia G writes she first ate this quick-to-make confection at her friend Rebecca’s house, and she knew the two would be friends for a long time.
   The first time I saw the name of the recipe, I laughed very, very hard.
   But when I served the treat to others, I stuck with the name "chocolate-pretzel balls," and you might want to do that too, especially if you’re giving them to children.
   They were insanely easy to make, with just five ingredients, and were a big hit with everyone who ate them.
   The recipe says to create a double boiler by filling a saucepan with water, bringing it to medium-high heat and placing a glass bowl inside that fits well and stays above the water. I used exactly the opposite set-up: A glass saucepan with a metal bowl inside.
   Finely-chopped semi-sweet chocolate and milk chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips instead) and butterscotch chips are put in the bowl and stirred until melted. The mixture is removed from heat and peanuts and crushed pretzels are stirred in (I used a mini-chopper to crush the pretzels, but not to a fine-pretzel dust, just to smaller pieces).
   Heaping tablespoons of the chocolate mixture are put on parchment-lined baking sheets and chilled.
   The recipe says to chill the blobs of chocolate for five minutes initially before shaping them into balls. I recommend a little longer, about seven minutes.
   The baking sheets are removed from the fridge, and the blobs compressed into balls. I found I couldn’t get them exactly round, as there were peanuts and pretzels in them, so I did the best I could into forming them into a more compact shape.
   Chill the balls until you’re ready to serve them.

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