Quiche me if you dare

November 12, 2009

quicheIt’s that time of year again. Time to pull out your cocktail party clothes and brush up on current affairs because the holiday season party invitations are going to start rolling in!

Or, maybe you’re thinking of hosting a holiday shindig. If so, chances are mini-quiches are on your list. They’re a party time stand-by but unfortunately, so many of the bought frozen quiches are just awful! Yet, people keep tossing their good money away by buying them. Such a shame when they are so very easy to make ahead, freeze and then heat in the oven when you need them.

All you need to do is whisk together
8 eggs
4 cups (1 litre ) 35% cream

Seriously, that’s it. Then, toss some yummy stuff like cheese, ham, salt, pepper, mustard, green onions and such together and divide them evenly between blind baked tart shells. Fill with the egg mixture and bake at 350ºF (180ºC) until the filling is jiggly and just barely set. Cool to room temp, place in zip top bags and freeze until needed. To serve, bake from frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350ºF (180ºC) until the crust smells toasty.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Butterscotch

November 10, 2009


Fancier. Butterier. As yummy as ever before but just more (deservingly) popular. Butterscotch is trending up and that can’t help but be good!

From butterscotch desserts appearing on more fine dining restaurant menus to a twitter chat I had with @finecooking a couple of weeks ago, it seems like I can’t pass the day without hearing a butterscotch reference.

It’s even on sitcoms: on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, it was declared that “Butterscotch is Canadian women’s chocolate.”

While I can’t speak for the entire Canadian female population, I can say that chocolate is my chocolate but butterscotch is my butterscotch. Confused? It’s the same as how silk is silk and wool is wool. Both are great but they’re different. And, like a wool sweater over a silk shirt, they’re often fantastic together!

That said, one of my favourite childhood desserts is Butterscotch Meringue Pie; it’s a study in soothing dessert goodness.

What about you? Butterscotch or chocolate? Canadian or American? Fess up!

Dana’s Definitive Butterscotch Meringue Pie

1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) hot milk
4 eggs, separated
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 pre-baked pie crust, 9-in (23 cm)
1/3 cup (75 mL) granulated sugar

Stir the flour with the brown sugar in heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook, stirring almost constantly, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes or until thick and smooth; reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring often.

Beat the egg yolks and stir a little of the hot milk mixture into eggs. Pour the egg mixture into pan, stirring constantly and cook for 3 minutes longer. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Cool completely.

Beat the egg whites until foamy; gradually beat in granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Mound on top of custard, spreading meringue out to edge of crust. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden.

• Because this pie and topping are so sweet and rich, use a lard or shortening-based piecrust to ensure that the crust is a foil to the other elements.
• To pre-bake the piecrust, prick the raw shell all over with a fork; line with foil and pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a preheated, 400 F (200 C) oven for 20 minutes; remove foil and weights; bake for 10 minutes longer or until golden. Cool on rack.

I could go for a ginger cookie…

November 6, 2009


If you read yesterday, you know that I’m taking the easy way out to end the week by recycling some of my favourite cold weather comfort food posts.

On the list today are recipes from my sweet kitchen:
Microwave butterscotch pudding
Tarte Tatin
Super crisp ginger cookies
Butter Tarts

What sweet treat epitomizes warming comfort for you? Again, feel free to link to your site or recipes that we can all bookmark for a day when we need an indulgence.

Taco tsunami

October 29, 2009

Shrimp tacoTacos. They aren’t just filled with chili powder spiced ground beef anymore. Recent trends have seen fish tacos win fans from coast-to-coast and so-called Korean Tacos trucks are cruising the streets in big US cities like LA, New York and Seattle. Likewise, meatless tacos and tacos that feature slices of meatloaf as the star filling have recently been featured in national magazines.

At our house, tacos are a regular menu item. We’re soft taco lovers and I’ve been known to fill our shells with pulled pork, vegetarian chili, seared hoisin glazed duck and even stir-fry.

What happens at your house? Are you a taco kit household or an anything-goes-in-a-tortilla household like ours?

Grape expectations

September 4, 2009


Does everyone have food memories that take them back to their childhood? Probably. I know I have many.

At this time of the year, popping a semi-seedless Ontario Coronation grape on my tongue and feeling that burst of juicy goodness takes me right back to age 11 when my family lived in a house whose former owners had valued self-sufficiency very highly. Our standard-issue suburban yard was crammed full of wonderful fruit-bearing plants: damson plums, peaches, apples and pears grew in our backyard. All around the house, positioned above the lower storey windows like living awnings, were full, glorious grape vines whose leaves shaded the house all summer.  I fondly remember, as an 11-year-old, teetering on my desk chair to open the window, sliding back the screen and picking a bouquet of blue-black grapes to eat before settling down to memorize my first list of spelling words for the school year.

Coronation and the other Ontario blue grape variety, Fredonia, are only available from mid-August to late September, so this is the perfect weekend to pick up a basket if you don’t have a grape vine growing over your bedroom window.

During the rest of the year, most commercially-available table grapes sold in Canada are imported from places like California. You can easily distinguish native blue table grapes from other table grapes by examining their size and skin. Imported table grapes are considerably larger than the blue grapes Canadian home gardeners can grow and they have skins that cling to the flesh of the fruit. Canadian-grown blue grapes, on the other hand, are each about the size of a small marble, cluster in tight bunches on the vine and feature ‘slip’ skins that can easily be removed from the fruit.

These wonderful little grapes are still a favourite of mine to eat out of hand, but I also like to add them to salads and use them in this once-a-year focaccia recipe:

Coronation Focaccia

1 envelope fast-acting dry yeast
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) bread or all-purpose flour (approx)
1/2 tsp (2 mL)  salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) very warm water
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey
1/4 cup (50 mL)  melted butter
2 cups (500 mL) Ontario blue grapes, halved and seeded if necessary
1/3 cup (75 mL) muscovado or granulated sugar

1. Stir yeast with flour and salt and reserve. Stir water with lemon juice, honey and melted butter in a large bowl. Stir in half the flour mixture and blend well. Stir in remaining flour mixture and turn out onto the counter. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic,  adding up to 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra flour if necessary. Place in a lightly buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Rest for 10 minutes.

2. Turn dough out of bowl and press out all the air. Roll dough into a large rectangle. Scatter half the grapes over dough and sprinkle with half the sugar. Brush around the edge of the dough with a little water and fold dough like a letter to make a rectangle. Crimp the edges of the dough to seal. Sprinkle with remaining grapes, turning skin side up and pressing gently into dough. Sprinkle with sugar. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

3. Tent bread with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Bake focaccia on middle rack for 25 to 30 minutes or until well browned. Immediately loosen bread with a spatula from pan (it will be saucy on the bottom) and slide onto a rack to cool. Makes 1 loaf.

Hot weather comfort food

August 21, 2009


At long last, the heat and humidity has come to Toronto. We’ve had an amazingly summery week and I’ve loved every single minute of it. Seriously. You don’t hear me complaining about the heat – I even cycled to work and played tennis. I just love it!

The only downside to the hot weather is having to cook in a steamy kitchen. No fun. So, I took my dinner prep outdoors.

Pictured above is a yummy cauliflower curry that we sopped up with grilled naan bread. Once the curry was done I threw in some extra charcoal and grilled a few  lamb chops, too. It was a fantastic dinner if I do say so myself.

How do you beat the heat?  Do you order in, subsist on salads or what?

Curried Cauliflower over Charcoal:

Combine a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes with two tablespoons of mild, medium or hot curry paste and a tablespoon of minced ginger. Add a little extra cumin if you like. Cut up a small head of cauliflower and stir the florets and a handful of golden raisins into the mixture. (If you don’t live with Martin who is allergic to legumes, add some drained, rinsed chickpeas, too). Cook, stirring often, on the hot barbecue until the juices are thickened and the cauliflower is fork tender. Stir in chopped fresh mint or coriander and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.

Soft shell crab

June 1, 2009


I spent part of my youth living in Vancouver. On Saturday mornings, my mom and I would often head down to the Steveston docks where the fishermen sold their catch. Among the many wonderful things we’d bring home were long, gangly Alaskan king crab legs that we steamed and ate like lobster with drawn garlic butter. Other times we got saucer-shaped Dungeness crabs that we steamed and shelled before forming the meat into crab cakes that we pan-fried and served with tartar sauce. Delish!

Despite my love of crab, until last weekend I had never tasted soft shell crab. Martin brought some home to serve at a dinner party we hosted and I couldn’t believe how easy they were to prepare – no shells to crack, no cut fingers, no splashy juices on the cupboards!

Here’s what Martin did:

He snipped off the front of each crab behind the eyes. Then he dipped each one into beaten egg before dredging it in flour and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then he tossed the crabs into a shallow pool of canola oil, heated almost until it was smoking. He browned the crabs on both sides and we ate them – shells, guts and all – with sliced watermelon. Easiest. Appetizer. Ever!

Since our party, I’ve done a little investigating and I can tell you a few more facts about soft shell crab:

  • They are usually blue crabs and the season lasts from May to July.
  • As the crabs grow larger at this time of year, their shells cannot expand so they molt their exterior and have a soft covering for a few days as their new shell develops; that’s why you can eat them whole.
  • The best soft shell crab comes from Chesapeake Bay but there are edible soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, too.
  • The crabs should be kept alive until cooking so buy them packed in straw covered ice so that they are very cold but never frozen.

Although it didn’t bother most of us to eat the entire soft shell crab, eating them innards and all freaked two of our guests out. And I can imagine that some of you are grossed out that we cut into them while still alive. Are we barbarians? Or, could you prepare and eat a soft shell crab, too?

PS: If you’re hungry for more info about soft shell crabs, you can check out this story in last week’s Washington Post; however, you may need a subscription to view it.