Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Hummus: A good ol' (new) family recipe

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Do you have family recipes? The kind that are passed down from generation to generation, sometimes getting tweaked here and there, but rarely because great-great-grandma really knew what she was doing? I love those. There's just something heart (and stomach) warming about them. Generations of food knowledge passed down and down.

My family has a few of those, though I don't know if any are quite that old, except maybe the Christmas pudding - which I have yet to acquire a taste for. This hummus is one of them.  This is what I like to think of as a New Family Recipe, it hasn't gone through generations of approval, but my mum, my sister and I all make this frequently within our own homes.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Stuffed Portobellas and the meaning of summer

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What does summer mean to you? For me, it's all about simplicity.  Simple style, it's too hot to mess around. Simple activities, the beach, the patio, the reading-in-the-grass, all simple. Simple food, BBQs, salads, watermelon, ice cream sandwiches.

Summer has officially hit Toronto, which means my body and brain are kicking into slow gear and just want to keep it simple.  To appease my body and brain (and tip my hat to the beginning of summer) I whipped up some simple food.

The steps involved are simple. The food involved is simple. The flavour is ... not quite simple, it's more delicious.

This is one of those great fridge clearing recipes. These happen to be stuffed with quinoa, bok choy, carrot, garlic, and onion. That's what I had on hand.  You could easily mix this up with the variety of veg you may have in your crisper that needs to be used up. More simplicity, no specific grocery store runs.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Saffron Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

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Saffron Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

Saffron Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies. I don't need to tell you anything about these cookies, because the name says it all, doesn't it?

I don't need to tell you that these are a complex little cookie - not in preperation, that part is easy, but in texture and flavour. I don't need to tell you that these have a nice crunch on the outside with a pleasing cakey/chewy consistency on the inside. Or the fact that the saffron and vanilla bean give these a flavour so subtle, but so "there" at the same time that you just can't quite put your finger on which one it is.  I also don't need to tell you that these are the most perfectly sweet and tender cookies you will ever make. I don't need to tell you these things, because it's all right there in the name.

Saffron vanilla bean sugar cookies

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Green Goddess Quinoa Cakes and a cooking first!

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Here are some random facts you may not have known about me:

1) I love scotch. One of my favourite drinks is the Rusty Nail.

2) I attend dance parties nearly every day of my life. They are all in my living room, and they are all by myself.

3) I love playing scrabble and boggle. I am terrible at both.

4) I hate feet. Plain and simple hate.

5) The poached egg you see in these photos, is the first I've ever made. Ever. And it was terrifying.

I tell you these things because sometimes it's nice to share.  Sometimes it's nice to throw a little bit of yourself out there and see what happens.  Also, that is exactly what I did not do with these quinoa cakes. I gobbled this up for lunch so quickly the cat barely had a chance to register there was something tasty for her to try and sniff.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Green Goddess Dressing: An Almost Vegan Adventure

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Green Goddess Dressing

It's time to get our goddess on (you too, men!) Packed full of green yummy goodness and tasting
oh-so-fresh, the dressing goes with just about everything, and for that I love it.

Other Half was away for a about a week, and when he came back, he told me that he was impressed I actually cooked.  I could have been offended, but it's completely true. Normally when he's away and I'm home, I happily live on cereal and pickles.  That's normal, right?

This time however, I glammed it up with mostly homemade meals.  Like I was some sort of kitchen super star. I totally was.

Green Goddess Dressing

Anyway, back to the goddess of a dressing ... I may have eaten this by the spoonful right after I made it, and again every time I opened the jar. I might have dipped bread in it an hour later, and then twice more later that night. I also might have eaten 3/4 of the batch over a 3 day period while Other Half was out of town. In truth, I definitely did these things, but once you taste this dressing, I think you'll understand why. To call this addicting is an understatement.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Kale Basil Walnut Pesto

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I came to the pesto loving party a bit late in my life. Maybe I had it as a kid and loved it, I don’t remember (there’s that memory problem again), but I do remember the first time I bought it for myself when I was no longer living under the roof of my parents.  I was living in Amsterdam at the time and some friends kept eating really delicious looking pasta. They used the word pesto, they were French, I got confused. But off I trotted to the Albert Heijn (grocery store) and found myself staring at a row of jars - all of which look the same to me, all of which say something slightly different from the next, in Dutch, which means I don’t understand any of them.  So, me being me, I don’t choose the most basic looking one, no no no, I choose the one in the prettiest bottle (I don’t think i’m alone here?) and doesn’t it turn out to be olive based pesto.  This is the part of the story where I tell you I HATE olives! Except olive bread, that is a whole other league of food. Anyway, long story short, for the longest time, I thought that’s what ALL pesto tasted like. Blech. No, thank you.

Cut to the not too recent, but not too distant past and I somehow stumble across pesto again. This time without knowing the name first... ummm DELICIOUS! I was SHOCKED when I found out this was what pesto really was. And excited. Now if you say the words pesto and chicken in the same sentence, I’m all over it like chocolate on a sundae - yes, please!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Strawberry Banana Muffins: Tastes of Summer

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Strawberry Banana Muffin

This is not just any muffin. This is a strawberry and banana muffin. It's sweet, charming and a perky little thing.

See that cookbook? Just looking at it, you cen tell it's full of classics, right? This was published the same year I was born, and like all things from that year, this is a great, reliable little book that has seen me through a number of muffin and bread-like adventures. It also has the great bonus feature of a few hand written corrections from my mum, the original owner. I have a few cookbooks in my kitchen that have been around since the beginning of my time and I love checking out the recipes that were "au courant" in the 80's to see how tastes have changed (a lot!).  I also know that when I need to peel something back to the basics, these are the best references a girl can hope for.

strawberry banana muffins

Anyway...with ol' faithful there by my side, a hankering to get baking again after my recent trip to France and some strawberries left in the freezer from last picking season that were begging to be used, I got searching and I soon found what I was looking for ... sort of. I came across a recipe for banana date muffins. Admittedly not at all what I was looking for originally, but the description under the title said "A perky little muffin." Obviously I had no choice but to use and adapt this recipe and make it work. And boy did it!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Poitiers, France

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Dudes, news flash. France is old. Like OLD old. Never have I been more aware of that fact than when hanging out in the Poitou-Charantes region.  History is oozing everywhere you look.  It's pretty spectacular.

Poitiers takes in all of that old and in turn radiates with all the appeal that can bring.

Lonely Planet has a great, and succinct write up on the history of the city: Inland from the coast, the cobblestone city of Poitiers is packed with history. Founded by the Pictones, a Gaulish tribe, it is the former capital of Poitou, the region governed by the Counts of Poitiers in the Middle Ages. A pivotal turning point came in AD 732, when somewhere near Poitiers (the exact site is not known) the cavalry of Charles Martel defeated the Muslim forces of Abd ar-Rahman, governor of Córdoba, thus ending Muslim attempts to conquer France. The Romans built up the city and various ruins can be found around the city.

A day out in the city offers up a lot to see and explore. One of the easiest way to discover the sites is to follow one of three Chemins de Notre Dame, a series of self-guided walking tours that are marked by a continuous coloured line. All of the walks start at Notre Dame la Grande, the central cathedral, take about 1.5 - 2 hours to complete, and loop back so that you also finish at Notre Dame.  

On our day out there, we mixed things up a bit as we already had some sense of what we wanted to see. Instead of focusing on just one of the walks, we picked at certain parts of two of them.

We started in the centre of the old town at Notre Dame la Grande (built in the second half of the 11th century), and then continued on to Musee Saint Croix, one of two musuems in town.  The museum focuses on both art and archeology, with the archeology section including traces and exhibits from Prehistory to the Middle Ages.

Next up we were off to discover the Place de la liberte. This unassuming square was once the residing place of Poitiers guillotines during the revolution.  Now, it holds a miniature, replica, Statue of Liberty which was cast by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the very same man who designed the original. 

With dinner plans at some local friends, we had just enough time for an espresso before we headed out. 

If you're in the region, be sure to stop in to the old town of Poitiers and lose yourself in all that ancient!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Chateau de La Roche-Courbon

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First real travel post! yay! Let's get some culture up in here.

The last time I was in this region of France, we went to visit the Chateau de La Rochefoucauld, and without realizing it (until it was too late, and we felt like fools) met Lady Rochefoucauld and had a very pleasant chat in her front garden.

This time around, I didn't meet the Lady (or Lord) Roche-Courbon, but I did ramble around their former grounds for the better part of 2 hours, and what a place it was!

The castle was built around 1475 by Jehan de Latour, on site which had been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 17th century, the Courbon family, which had occupied the castle for two centuries, transformed the castle into a more comfortable residence. More alterations were made in the 18th century, but the castle was eventually sold in 1817 and then abandoned. It was purchased in 1920 by Paul Chénereau, who restored the castle and its gardens. The castle is still owned and inhabited by his descendants (source)

We missed the last tour to see the inside of the chateau (it is still a private residence, so tours are required to see inside and happen twice per day), but the grounds were expansive enough that we spent a full afternoon wandering.

During the summer you can tell that the gardens would have been absolutely spectacular.  Even now, the signs of spring were bringing small hits of colour.  The gardens are listed by the French Ministry of Culture under their "Gardens of Note" and it's easy to see why.  Apple trees were grafted into benches, and they have their own grotto that is the home to many fascinating caves.

Apple trees!
We started up at the chateau end and made our way across and around the man made river/lake system (fed by the River Bruant), which is extraordinarily expansive, these photos show about 1/10 of it.

Circling around the far side and coming face to face with the most charming grounds keepers quarters I've ever seen, we continued on down to the grotto to get a glimpse of what was what. 

Grounds keepers quarters
According to this website, "the Grotte Château de La Roche Courbon (caves of the Chateau La Roche Courbon) are numerous rather small caverns located south of the castle at the foot of a limestone cliff. The caves were used by prehistoric man and numerous remains were found in the caves, hence the caves are often referenced as les grottes préhistoriques...The caves were inhabited in palaeolithic times during the Mousterian, Aurinacian and Magdalenian periods, from 120,000 to 10.000 BC."

Cool, right?

If you're interested, a more detailed history of the chateau and its gardens can be found here.


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