Sunday, October 25, 2009


About a week after we got back from France, our next door neighbours were off to Italy, leaving behind Zelda the black lab. Being the dog lover that I am, I offered to look after her for three weeks while they ate their way from Rome to Northern Italy with their three (smallish!) children. Roo and Zelda and I got into a nice routine of fun daily walks, backyard ball games and evening play dates and when the three weeks had passed I was actually a little bit sad to get back to a normal doggy routine. The sadness was eased somewhat by a generous gift from D. and S. that we appreciate so much especially considering that they must have carried it home in their carry-ons along with the three little ones and all their things.
We were presented with a beautiful, hand-painted espresso set and a pretty box of authentic, artisanal amaretti. I could smell those little morsels of bitter almond through the box and wondered how they didn't get devoured on that long flight home by D. or S. or one of the kids. When I opened the box that heady scent of almond filled my senses and I just couldn't wait to brew a cup of coffee to go with them. I immediately ate one. It crunched gently and broke in my mouth, then it seemed to melt into a delicious sweet almond powder. The flavour was so authentic that it almost seemed too good to be true. It wasn't reminiscent of "almond extract" but rather of the true flavour of bitter almonds. In fact the cookies themsleves had a surprisingly bitter quality that was really delicious.
Authentic amaretti are made with apricot kernels, or the little almond that is found inside an apricot pit. The kernels are extremely bitter and need to be blanched and skinned before using, but they hold the key to that unmistakable almond flavour. These amaretti were definitely authentic and are being rationed at our house to prolong the pleasure. I think there are two or three left in the box and I will be sad when the last one gets eaten because I'm pretty sure that any amaretti I will find here will pale in comparison.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Savoury Zucchini Loaf with goat's cheese and olives

One of the things I noticed when we were in France this summer was that at almost every family meal, someone would invariably bring a cake sale, or savoury cake baked in a loaf pan. I had tried them before, but never have I seen such a variety and on so many occasions. In fact, I think the cake sales were even more prominent this summer than the ubiquitous quiche! One of these cakes stood out in my mind, Tatie Mireille's Cake Sale au Chevre, aux Olives et aux Noisettes. Mireille is a creative cook, her flavours are definitely Mediterannean, but she is not restrained by a single way of cooking. This cake sale was a perfect example, she took her recipe for a cake with ham and cheese and made it so much better with goat's cheese, black olives and hazelnuts. Her daughter also made me an amazing crepe while we were there with goat's cheese and honey, but that's for another post....

Last night was girl's night and A. had the most gigantic zucchini I've ever seen from her Mom's garden that she absolutely had to get rid of. She had already made a chocolate zucchini cake and was going to make another one and she couldn't fathom what to do with the rest. I gladly took some home, she even pre-shredded it for me! So today as I was working and thinking about what I should make for dinner after another boring week of pasta (our kitchen is in reno mode and I have been very uncreative as most of my things are still in boxes) I thought of making a savoury zucchini cake with nuts and olives. I somehow found my measuring cups and spoons and I went about throwing together this loaf with what I had in the garden and my cupboards.

Savoury Zucchini Loaf with goat's cheese and olives

Preheat oven to 350

1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (if it's wet, give it a squeeze and drain the liquid)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (you can use goat's milk yogurt if you have it)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. grainy dijon mustard

Stir these ingredients together in a large bowl until combined.

good handful of parsley and chives, well chopped, or other herbs of your choice
12 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Add these ingredients and stir to combine.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Sift into mixture and stir until just combined.

1/2 cup soft goat's cheese (substitute with feta if you like)

Crumble into batter and fold gently to combine. Pour into a greased and floured loaf tin. Bake for 45 minutes-1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes and then invert cake onto the rack and cool completely. Serve in small slices as an appetizer. Keep well wrapped in fridge for up to 3 days.

Please be creative with this recipe, use it as a guideline. If you don't like walnuts, add hazelnuts, if you don't have parsley add basil. Add other ingredients, like sundried tomatoes or green olives. As long as you stick to the base, you can add and omit as you please!

Bon appetit!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


What is a trip to Paris without a stop at one of the best patisseries? I made sure that during our few days in the city of lights we made a stop at Laduree for macarons and chocolat chaud. I probably would have chosen the Champs Elysees location on my own, but our Parisian friends joined us and recommended Laduree Bonaparte, a little out of our way, but also a little less touristy (although still very busy on a weekday afternoon). They wanted to take us upstairs to the tea room to enjoy our tiny, dreamy and colourful macarons. We weren't really dressed for it, but the friendly staff didn't seem to mind (I guess when you're willing to spend 20 euros on two hot drinks and four mini-macarons they don't care what you're wearing). The room was quiet and painted blue with gold gilding, the tables were dressed in fine white linens with silver cutlery and my beautiful tea (a la fleur d'oranger) came in a gorgeous bone china tea cup. The hot chocolate that JS ordered was so thick you practically needed to eat it with a spoon, it was rich, velvety and not too sweet but even JS, ever the chocolate lover, had a hard time finishing it! It was a difficult task to choose our macaron flavours, although one of those decisions in life that is a pleasure to be faced with, but after much deliberation I chose Cassis-Violette, Caramel au Beurre Sale, Fleur d'Oranger and Pistache. All were delicious, but my hands down favourite was Cassis-Violette, it had a jammy and tart filling that nicely contrasted with the soft, delicate almond cookies.
On our way out I had to stop to take some macarons to go, partly to share with our friends and partly so that I could get one of their signature boxes and a beautiful bag to take home as a souvenir. I even got to choose which box colour (!), pink for me! My pretty green bag hangs beautifully in my office so that every time I look at it I think of our afternoon break at Laduree that late August day.