Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions and 2008 Favourites

So, I made a list of all my New Year's resolutions, and there are many. Usually I don't really intend to keep them, but this year I made fairly achievable ones. Do more yoga, write more, keep the blog up to date, things of that nature. So in the interest of getting the year off on the right foot, I decided to post one last entry in 2008.
This photo of Roo is my favourite image of Christmas 2008. She just embodies Christmas in this picture. You can see the happy chaos around her and the big smile on her face. I know dogs can't smile, but look at that face, if she could smile, she would be in this picture.
Here are a few of my favourite food related things from this year:

Favourite meal in a pinch: Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry

Favourite morning tea: Milk Oolong

Favourite evening tea: Honeybush Botswana (a blend of honeybush tea with calendula and sunflower I believe)

Favourite spice: Spanish Smoked Paprika

Favourite thing to make with fresh tomatoes: Pa Amb Tomaquet

Favourite healthy snack: My healthy banana cake, which I made yesterday with dates and walnuts, mmmmmm!

Favourite new ingredients: local organic spelt flakes, quinoa flour, red quinoa 

Favourite homemade jams: Nanking Cherry, Apricot Vanilla with apricot almonds

2008 has come and gone, I did a lot of cooking and baking and not a lot of photography (another of this year's resolutions!). We will be celebrating with friends, dogs, wine and a fire tonight to ring in the new year. Hope it's a happy, peaceful and healthy 2009 for all!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting in the spirit!

JS will roll his eyes at me when he sees that I'm thinking about Christmas already. In his mind, nobody should be allowed to even think about Christmas until December 1st. Christmas carols in November? Not a chance at our house! But an early gift to ourselves is an exception to his way of thinking I guess, and so, we bought a camera. 
As it turns out,  JS was not too happy with the D60, and so we went back to the store last night after work and upgraded to the D80. We just got the kit lens, which is an 18-55, but it will do for now. We'd like to get some better lenses eventually. The D80 just has better features and is quite a bit faster, so it will take us farther than the D60. The cookie to the left is one of my first photographic attempts with the new camera.

After fooling around with the camera, it was time to get into the kitchen! Today was the day I set aside to start my Christmas baking. First on the list was shortbread. I decided to be a purist this time and not get into lavender and crystallized ginger. At Christmastime, I think tradition always wins. So scalloped round, buttery shortbread biscuits with sparkling coloured sugar were in order. Also on the agenda was gingerbread, the dough is hanging out in the fridge while the shortbread continue to hog the oven. Hopefully I'll have time to bake them today.
Usually I send some cookies to all our "gosses" in France. I've done shortbread, sugar cookies and gingerbread. Surprisingly, J, who was 2 at the time, loved the spicy gingerbread, even though the French don't usually seem to be fans. So this year I'm going to go with gingerbread again. Maybe in the shape of sapins de noel....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Point and Shoot

I am really excited to tell you that I got a brand new Nikon today! It's a pretty entry level D-SLR, a D-60, but it's so much better than what we have now and I hope it will take my photography to the next level. The battery is charging as we speak in anticipation of tomorrow's daylight when I will begin playing. Now, 4:42 pm, the sun is setting (boo to winter!) and there's no chance of taking any pictures tonight since I don't have a flash. Until then, I will dream of what I'm going to photograph tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Adventures in tea!

You may or may not know that I am a tea lover, there are few times in the day that I would say no to a good cup of tea. I'm not talking about Tetley with milk (sorry Grandma!), but more interesting varieties from China, Japan, Korea, South Africa and South America. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind a cup of black tea with cream if I'm having scones and jam on a Sunday afternoon, but on a day to day basis I like to experiment with different varieties. To me it's a little like traveling the world in my kitchen, a daily adventure!
This past weekend my Mom and I went to visit friends and family in Ontario. We spent most of the weekend visiting, and made a few outings to some really great tea shops where I racked up my credit cards and came home with (some would say) ridiculous amounts of roiboos, oolong and mate. Luckily for me security didn't tear open my bags, it may have looked a bit suspicious, all those little clear bags with green and brown dried up herbs inside!
J and I had lots of fun smelling, tasting and choosing our teas. 
Among my favourites from this trip are: Milk Oolong Guanzhou which brews up pale yellow in the cup and tastes of evaporated milk with an aftertaste of orchid and mangoes; Morrocan Mint made with gunpowder and refreshing peppermint; Chocolate Mint Roiboos made with real chocolate and mint leaves, this tea could replace dessert for me some nights; Honeybush Orange with real orange zest and natural flavour but no acidity.
D got back from Beijing this week and brought me back some amazing Jasmine Pearls from his usual tea shop. This time he also brought a few different qualities of Jasmine tea, so I could do a tasting. There are the pearls, then two lesser quality teas that are not rolled into pearls, but still smell amazing. Can't wait to try them side by side. Just wish J was here to share.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pear and Apple Compote with Spiced Butter Biscuits

This is my first submission to Sugar High Fridays, an online blogging event that happens every month. All you have to do is make a sweet treat within the selected  theme, then submit your recipe and a photo. I thought it would be easy, especially given this month's theme, Spices. What a great, vast and vague theme. How hard could it be? I thought about using one of my Mom's or my Granny's wonderful spicy recipes, like Ginger Cookies or Apple Spice Cake, but then I thought I should do something more original, use my imagination a little.
At this time of year I buy bags and bags of pears and apples every time I go to the store, anticipating winter, when you can't buy a decent piece of fruit to save your life. I had been wanting to use the star anise that I have in a cute little jar in my spice cupboard (up until now all I've done with it is smell it occasionally). I also picked up some cinnamon sticks the other day. With all these yummy fall ingredients around, these recipes just naturally fell into place. I decided to make a compote with pears and apples and some lovely spices and sweeten it with honey. Then, to dress it up, a buttery shortbread biscuit with some of the same spices. 
JS was my photographer for the day, and I have to say that about 30 seconds after taking the photo you see here, the cookies and compote were gone. When I make something that gets this hearty a reception from him, I know it's good. He's not an easy boy to please in the food department. So here you go, enjoy!

Pear and Apple Compote

4 ripe Anjou pears
2 McIntosh apples
4 tbsp honey
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
a good grating of nutmeg

Peel and chop the pears and apples into small chunks. Put everything into a medium sized pot and cook, covered, over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Take the lid off and continue cooking and enjoying the smell for about another 10 minutes. When the fruit is tender, remove from heat and discard the star anise and cinnamon stick. Put through food mill on fine, or blitz in the food processor until smooth. I like the food mill because it doesn't allow any fibrous bits through, plus it feels very old-fashioned. Allow to cool and then refrigerate.

Spiced Butter Biscuits

Preheat oven to 300 F.

1 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Cream together until well blended. Add:

1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Stir into butter and sugar until smooth.

2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
pinch salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp each ground cloves and freshly ground nutmeg

Blend these dry ingredients together then add to butter, sugar and egg mixture with a spatula. When it comes together, press into a parchment lined 9x13 pan. Score the surface of the dough with a knife to create squares or rectangles to the size you like. Sprinkle with white sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges and not too soft to the tough in the middle. Remove the parchment from the pan onto a wire rack to cool, then break along the score lines.
Serve with Pear and Apple compote, sharp cheese, nuts and dried fruit for a casual dessert, or eat simply with tea.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tree-Hugging, Granola making and more....

We've been going for some really nice walks around the neighbourhood lately. There are still some warmish days left and we have been taking full advantage with the knowledge that winter isn't too far away from rearing it's chilly head.
I really love our area, with it's interesting gardens, old houses, and mix of people. It tends to attract tree-hugging, recycling, nature-loving, bike-riding, lawnmower pushing, Birkenstock-wearing granola types. So, the other day when making granola, I thought to myself "How appropriate!". I don't know whether I came here because I was attracted to this earth loving lifestyle, or whether it has rubbed off on me, but either way, I feel at home here.
So pull those dusty Birk's out from the back of the closet and get in the kitchen to make this yummy and healthy granola! Then, while you're waiting for it to bake, go hug a tree!

Tree-Hugging Granola

Preheat oven to 225 F.

7 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup whole almonds (chop them or leave them whole, whichever you prefer)
1/2 cup flax seeds
Mix these together and set aside.

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup agave syrup or honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
Whisk these ingredients together in a small bowl, then pour over the oat mixture and combine until everything is moistened. Spread into a cookie sheet as evenly as possible. Pop into the oven and bake for about 1 hour, stirring it around once or twice during that time.

1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped, dried apricots
When you take the granola out of the oven after one hour, add the dried fruit and give it a stir. Put it back into the oven for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool on the counter then store in an airtight container.

Please have fun with this recipe! You can add any dried fruit, nut or seed. Try sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped dried figs, dried cherries, hazelnuts, whatever tickles your fancy! Chocolate chips or chunks make a great addition once it's cool. 
This granola is so good over plain yogurt drizzled with honey; with soy, almond or cow's milk; or just straight out of your hand. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Yellow Tomato Coulis

Okay, I lied. I decided to write a post tonight about some yellow tomatoes I had piling up. Here's how it started....
Our tenants moved out last Friday, and the first thing I did as soon as they gave me the keys and pulled out of the back lane was to raid their vegetable garden. They left loads of carrots (made a yummy shredded carrot salad today), and about 60 or more tomatoes, most of them yellow. I don't mind yellow tomatoes in a salad or a tart, but really, what else does one do with yellow tomatoes? I don't think sauce would taste the same if it was yellow. But, something had to be done, a few of them were starting to get mouldy, and there's not much I hate more than watching a tomato from my garden go into the compost bin. Of all the vegetables in the garden, I think of tomatoes as my babies. Maybe because I start them from seed every spring, putting them outside in the warm sun during the day and bringing them inside to bed every evening; seeing them grow from skinny little sprouts, to tiny little plants with a few leaves and little soft hairs on their stems; planting them into the earth where they have to fend for themselves and where they grow big and lush with thick woody stalks and pretty yellow flowers promising beautiful, shiny fruit; catching a glimpse of one of those little flowers growing a small green globe.  Yes, tomatoes are definitely my babies of the garden. So, something needed to be done with these yellow babies, and the only thing I could thing of was coulis.
Here's how I did it:
Cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato, piercing the skin, but not cutting deep.
Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and when they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off.
At this point seed the tomatoes and remove the hard bit where the stem was. 
Drop the flesh into a blender and whizz until liquid.
If you want a nice tomato juice, there you have it. You can also use this to dip good, crusty baguette which has been cut into long fingers, rubbed with garlic, toasted and drizzled with good olive oil and coarse sea salt. This is a Catalunyan treat called Pa Amb Tomaquet and is worth trying for it's simplicity and shocking burst of flavours.
Happy coulis making! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Figue et Noisette

I decided today to set up my new blog, Figue et Noisette.  I decided on that name firstly because I wanted something French, as france is my second (oh wait, maybe third) true love and the country that inspired me to start my dessert catering business that I ran for three years. Also, figs and hazelnuts are among my favourite things to eat, and can be used in so many ways, sweet and savory. Lastly, I think of the fig as such a beautiful representation of femininity and the hazelnut seems a good masculine symbol.  So we have the yin and yang, two very different, natural foods that complement each other, yet are so different, one luscious, sweet and soft, one crunchy and rich. Okay, you get the idea....
This will be my place to share recipes, play with my new camera (which I haven't bought yet....), and write about cooking, baking, gardening, traveling and all things related.
I may take a while to get back here because I want to wait for my new camera before I start posting, but please bookmark me and come back. I will have lots of recipes and yummy food ideas!