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watermelI have an idea. Serve these watermelon wedges at your next barbecue or picnic without telling anyone they’ve been soaked in tequila. Your guests won’t know what hit them! What fun. Better, at least, than those silly Jello shots that were popular a few years ago.

When I saw this recipe in the July 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living I had one of those why didn’t I think of that moments that I often have when I look through this magazine. The naysayers may take issue with Martha’s recipes, but no one can fault her creativity.

Be sure to soak the watermelon for at least an hour. It will become more flavorful the more you soak it. Garnish with coarse sea salt for extra pizazz.

Tequila-Soaked Watermelon Wedges

watermelon

from Martha Stewart Living July 2009

serves 4

Ingredients:

1 small seedless watermelon , quartered and cut into 1-inch wedges

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup tequila

1/2 cup Triple Sec

2 limes, cut into wedges

coarse sea salt

Directions:

1) Arrange watermelon in a single layer in two 9×13 baking dishes. Bring sugar, water, tequila, and Triple Sec to a boil in a small saucepan. Cook until sugar dissolves, stirring continuously, about 1 minute. Let cool slightly.

2) Pour syrup over watermelon and refrigerate for an hour. Remove watermelon from syrup and arrange on a platter. Squeeze limes over the melon and season with salt.

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strawshort

There is much to love about summer. The endless sunshine, weekends spent camping or lazing on the beach. Picnics in the park or evening strolls around the seawall. If pressed, it would be hard for me to say what my favorite part of summer is, but I suspect I would say the fruit. Cherries, blueberries, nectarines and plums … I love them all. Mostly, though, I adore strawberries.

Yesterday, I spied local strawberries at my neighborhood market. I had been buying California strawberries for a couple of months now, but when I saw the familiar green baskets with the small ruby red berries, my heart gave a couple of extra beats. The California strawberries are okay. Sometimes they’re even good. But nothing can compare to our local, in-season strawberries. They’re small, relentlessly juicy, and bursting with that sweet strawberry taste that needs no sugar or other adornment.

I took them promptly home and made strawberry shortcakes. I was also reminded of the days when I was a child and we’d go strawberry picking to one of the farms on the outskirts of the city. Whether you live in Vancouver or one of the suburbs, you can drive in any direction and be in the countryside sooner rather than later. The whole family would pile into the car, each holding a big white bucket, and we would spend the whole afternoon rummaging through row after row of strawberry patches, until out backs ached and our hands were stained so red that we looked as though we’d had a serious accident.

Truth be told, I didn’t think much of the actual act of strawberry picking; my disdain for the dirt and the bugs were a foreshadowing of my future city girl ways. But I did love the aftermath of these jaunts out to the farm. I would gorge on those berries to my heart’s content. We weren’t the kind of family to have dessert after every dinner, but suddenly my mother was making cobblers and shortcakes and a strawberry jam that was so runny I used to spoon it by the ladleful over bowls of vanilla bean ice cream as a sort of impromptu sauce. The jam was a bright, fresh red, not too sweet, and to this day it’s still the best strawberry jam I have ever tasted.

Tasting those local strawberries yesterday, I made a resolution to get myself out to a berry farms one of these weekends. Maybe even learn how to make my mother’s jam. I’ve been trying to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible for awhile now. What better way to connect to my food and the earth than doing some strawberry picking of my own?

Strawberry Shortcakes

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

Makes 10-12 biscuits

shortcake

The biscuits in this recipe are made with yogurt, the best way to get a tender and flaky crumb. I use French Vanilla to add a bit of sweetness, but regular yogurt will do. You may also use buttermilk as a substitute. If you have neither, use milk instead and add 1 extra teaspoon of baking powder and omit the soda. For an even softer biscuit, try cake flour instead of all-purpose flour.

Ingredients:

for the biscuits

2 cups all-purpose or cake flour

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

5 tablespoons cold butter

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons yogurt or buttermilk

Directions:

1) Preheat the oven to 450F. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces and combine with the dry mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. The butter should be thoroughly blended with the flour.

2) Add the yogurt or buttermilk and combine until the mixture forms a ball. Do not over blend. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead no more than 10 times. Add a bit of flour if it is too sticky to handle.

3) Press the dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the rest of the dough and cut again.

4) Bake for 7-9 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown. Do not over bake.

For the filling:

5 cups sliced strawberries

3 tablespoons sugar

2 cups whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Toss the strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit while you whip the cream.

2) Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Slowly add 1 tablespoon sugar and the vanilla. Whip for 1 more minute.

To serve, cut the biscuits in half and fill them with the strawberries and fruit. The shortcakes are best when the biscuits are fresh.

lavaI was in desperate need of a chocolate fix when I stumbled upon this recipe for Molten Lava Cakes by Paula Deen. For some reason anything with the word ‘lava’ in it makes me think of the seventies. Because of lava lamp, maybe? Anyhow, because of this association, this dessert first struck me as very retro, liked baked Alaska or those jello molds. But the more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. It seemed incredibly easy and who can resist cutting their fork into a piece of cake to have their plate flood with a thick, oozing stream of warm chocolate heaven? Not me!

With a bit of poking on the Internet, I discovered that this is basically a French dessert, otherwise known as Moelleux au Chocolat. We call them lava cakes because the batter is not completely cooked, causing that liquid center to run out, like lava from a volcano.

The cakes are baked in custard cups, but ramekins or even a muffin tin can be used. The trick is to serve them fresh from the oven. Cool them slightly and then run a knife around the edges to loosen; invert each cake onto serving plates. The cooking time may be as little as 10 minutes but up to 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center wobbly.

I like to dust mine with a little icing sugar and serve them with strawberries or raspberries, if they’re in season. They’re also wonderful with creme anglaise or a raspberry coulis, if you want to bother.

 

Molten Lava Cakes

Adpated from Paula Deen courtesy of The Food Network

Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate

2 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons orange liqueur

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 425F. Grease 6 (6 ounce) custard cups. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler.

2) Add the flour and sugar to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and liqueur.

3) Divide the batter evenly among the custard cups; it should come up about three-quarters of the way.

4) Place in the oven and bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are set and have shrunk slightly away from the custard cups.

5) Invert each cake onto a dessert place and serve immediately.

macgratinI know summer is not the time for stew. Summer is for breezy salads and grilled meats and bowl fulls of steamed mussels or other fresh seafoods. But the salad thing gets tiresome day after day and I don’t have a patio where I could put a barbecue, even if I were allowed to have one in my condo complex. Sometimes I want to just throw a bunch of things in a slow cooker and be greeted by the delicate aroma of beef simmering in wine when I come home from work. The question becomes: what to do with all the leftovers? Sometimes I freeze them it in individual portions, sometimes I make la macaronade.

When I first came across the recipe for this dish in Patricia Wells’ classic French country cookbook Bistro Cooking I was surprised. It seemed a little declasse for a woman who is considered an authority on French cuisine. A bubbling leek and potato gratin is one thing, a gratin of macaroni quite another. But since I am a big fan of anything topped with cheese and baked in a hot oven, I soon became a convert.

To make an authentic macaronade, you must prepare a traditional French beef stew, such as an estouffade or daube.  The wine-rich broth layered with the pasta and freshly grated cheese makes a delicious meal anytime and is a perfect way to use up all those leftovers.

La Macaronade

Recipe from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking

Serves 4

macoronade

Ingredients:

1 pound (500g) elbow macaroni

1 cup liquid (25cl) reserved from a beef stew

1 cup (3.5 ounces; 100g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt

Directions:

1) Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil. Salt the water and add the pasta. Cook until tender. Drain.

2) Spoon half the noodles into a 2-quart (2l) gratin dish. Moisten with the stew liquid. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Add the remaining pasta, liquid and cheese.

3) Place under the broiler until the cheese is browned and bubbling.

rocketRocket. Also known as arugula. I love both names. Every time I say them my mouth wraps around the vowels with delight. I call this salad rocket salad because it sounds better than arugula salad. Rocket has a forcefulness to it. It sounds like something that will go off in your mouth, exploding with a million taste sensations.

A week ago, I was a stranger to this peppery lettuce. I’ve never been much of a greens girl–at least of the leafy variety. If I’m going to eat salad, it’s usually a Caesar. Or a spinach salad loaded with bits of bacon and egg and a good dollop of creamy dressing. However, one of my goals in writing this blog has been to expand my repertoire; lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to step outside the box and make things I ordinarily wouldn’t make, and consequently, eat things I ordinarily wouldn’t eat.

Now I wouldn’t classify myself as a picky eater. Like a lot of people, most of what I eat falls in the no-man’s-land between love it and hate it. I don’t dislike salads, they just don’t move me.

I’m slowly starting to change my mind, mostly because I’ve realized how great salads can be with a little bit of fruit. Adding a bit of pear and blue cheese to a bed of baby greens or some strawberries and pecans to some spinach leaves can make all the difference.

With a bit of experimenting, I devised this little salad, which makes a lovely lunch on a summer’s day. The caramelized apples add texture and sweetness, creating a sublime foil to the peppery bite of the arugula. A goat cheese studded with figs gives it even more character. It  infuses the vinaigrette with a creaminess, minus a lot of calories, and is perfect spread on a French baguette sprinkled with a bit of olive oil.

 

Rocket Salad with Caramelized Apples and Fig Goat Cheese

rock

Serves 4

Ingredients:

for the salad

6-7 ounces (200g) arugula

4 ounces (120g) fig goat cheese

6 ounces English cucumber

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

finely chopped red onion

for the dressing

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

freshly ground black pepper

squeeze lemon juice

Directions:

1) Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and apples. Cook the apple slices until golden brown and set aside.

2) Cut the goat cheese into slices with a piece of dental floss; this will keep the disks from crumbling and falling apart as you cut. Slice the cucumber lengthwise on a mandoline to create thin, even strips.

3) To make the dressing, place all of the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake vigorously. Toss the arugula with the dressing and arrange on 4 plates.

4) Arrange the cucumber slices and goat cheese on top of the arugula. Top with apple slices and a sprinkling of red onion. Serve immediately.

 

 

pancakesHere on the west coast this weekend we lost a lot of the sunshine that had been blazing for the last couple of weeks. It’s known to rain a lot in Vancouver, sometimes even in June, so turning on my air conditioning for the first time this year was exciting. After the winter we’ve had, it’s been a long time coming.

But sun or no sun, it was a lovely weekend, spent with family and friends, and partaking in a few of my favorite pastimes–mainly reading, writing, and of course, cooking. I started Saturday morning off with these blueberry buttermilk pancakes. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t have cereal for breakfast. On the weekend I may treat myself to bacon and eggs, eaten with toasted homemade bread and a couple of vine-ripened tomatoes. I’m all for self-indulgence, but pancakes for one seems silly when I only eat one or two.

If I’m going to eat pancakes, it’s going to be with my niece. Nikka is three and loves blueberry pancakes. When I visit her house, I like to make us some for breakfast. We get some alone time while her parents catch up on much-needed sleep.

This weekend was a really special one for Nikka. She participated in the Children’s Miracle weekend to raise money for BC’s Children Hospital. She also won the t-shirt design contest; her design was printed on 5,000 t-shirts that were worn by children at the event!  All in all, over 15 million dollars were raised to help children with cancer.

Here is that fabulous t-shirt!

childrun 

Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t she brilliant? A Picasso in the making! She’s three!

Here we are on my birthday when she was a wee bit younger. Isn’t she unbelievably cute?

NikkaAuntie

I was thinking about Nikka when I made these pancakes on Saturday. I did only eat a couple and froze the rest. Maybe she’ll come to her aunt’s house one day soon and we can have blueberry pancakes for breakfast together again.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”. Makes 4-6 servings.

pancakestack

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

1 cup frozen blueberries

 Directions:

1) Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat while making the batter.

2) Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Coat the blueberries with some of the flour mixture so they don’t turn the batter blue when you add them. Beat the eggs into the milk and then stir in the melted butter.

3) Gently stir the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. The flour should be moistened but not over mixed and you may have some lumps. If the batter is too thick, add a bit of milk. Fold in the blueberries.

4) For cooking, use a bit more butter or a neutral oil to prevent the pancakes from sticking. Ladle batter onto the griddle or skillet to form the size of pancakes desired. Adjust the heat if necessary.

5) Brown the bottom of the pancakes for 2-4 minutes. Flip when bubbles appear in the center of the pancake and the bottoms are golden. Cook the second side until also well-browned, a couple of more minutes. Pancakes should be served immediately but can be kept warming in a 200F oven until you finish making the whole batch.

freshbrocI’ve never been one of those broccoli haters. In fact, during the winter I eat a lot of broccoli.  I like to make it into soup, eat it steamed with a pat of butter and a squeeze of lemon, or chop it up into a quiche. I love most vegetables, but I’m short on imagination when it comes to preparing them.

That’s why when I found this recipe for fresh broccoli salad I had to make it immediately. I’d never thought you could do much with raw broccoli except chop it up and serve it as a crudite with dip. Now that I’ve been enlightened, the possibilities are endless. What makes the broccoli in this case so delightful is that it’s cut paper-thin on a mandoline. Now why hadn’t I thought of that?Especially since my mandoline has been my new best friend in recent months. The wispy slices look pretty and hold the dressing well. Used as a base for a summer salad, you could toss the broccoli with any number of vegetables and a simple vinaigrette. Adding some chopped herbs, toasted nuts, or even some salad greens like arugula are good options as well. Broccoli in the summer–who would have thought it?

This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown and is available on the Food Network website.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 lemon, zested

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt

pinch freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound broccoli, rinsed, trimmed, and sliced thinly on a mandoline

6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, haved

3 ounces coarsely chopped toasted pecans or hazelnuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves

brocsalad

broc

Directions:

1) Whisk together the vinegar, zest, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Gradually add the olive oil, continuing to whisk constantly.

2) Add the broccoli and toss to coat. Cover and place in the fridge for 1 hour.

3) Stir in the tomatoes, hazelnuts and basil. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature or in the fridge for another 15 minutes before serving.

French Women Dont Get Fat

French Women Don't Get Fat

As far as “diet” books go, Mireille Guiliano’s “French Women Don’t Get Fat” is old news. Published in the US in 2005, it became a runaway bestseller not so much for its engaging writing style or common sense approach to eating but because of our continued fascination with the French Paradox. Why is it, we wonder, that the French can eat all that cream, cheese, pork and goose fat and remain so svelte?

According to Guiliano’s research, only 11% of the French population is obese, compared to 30 % of the American population. It is, of course, a generalization to say that French women don’t get fat. Obviously some of them do, but Mireille’s point is that on the whole, they are comparatively slimmer to women from many other industrialized countries. In her second book, French Women for All Seasons, she reports that many readers sent her “gotcha” type letters about seeing a fat woman on a visit to France. Obesity is on the rise around the world due to the globalization of fast food and junk food, even in France; however, what the author tries to emphasize is that the better quality food you eat in moderation, the slimmer and healthier you will be. She explains it’s not just the food that is important but the whole culture around it.  Ultimately how you eat is just as important as what you eat, if not more. Habits such as eating on the run, in your car, or at your desk at work are not a part of the typical French lifestyle. A meal is meant to be a leisurely affair, eaten sitting down–preferably with family and friends.  It’s this traditional way of eating that Mireille feels is threatened in France, and she rightly encourages us all to get back to the way people used to eat.

The first French person I ever met was Sophie*, a young woman from Paris. Living in Canada, I had met many people from Quebec, but I had never met anyone from France until a few years ago. I was teaching English classes at a government agency established to help Francophone speakers settle in British Columbia. The classes were open to residents as well as visitors from any country that spoke French as a first or second language. Sophie had bright blue eyes, an infectious smile, and a face like an angel. She was also–by anyone’s definition–severely overweight. Sophie was always the first one to come to the school for my evening class. Every day I would find her in the lunch room, studying her notes as she ate her dinner, which was always a supersize meal from McDonald’s, Burger King, or Subway. Since I had always imagined French women to be reed-thin, meeting Sophie was a bit startling. To my mind, she was proof of the damage that the typical American diet and lifestyle could do.

In her book, Guiliano writes about her experience of gaining a lot of weight as an exchange student living in America and how her family doctor put her on the road to weight loss by teaching her how to eat quality foods in moderation. Using his tips and tricks, she lost the weight and has kept it off for decades. There are no gimmicks, just some time-honoured advice based on how French women traditonally act and think in relation to food. It all comes down to taking time with your food and eating in moderation.  If you buy the best quality food you can afford, you will be satisfied both physically and emotionally; you won’t feel the compulsion to stuff yourself with junk and empty calories.

The thing is, moderation itself is something that is difficult for humans. We have evolved with a feast-or-famine mechanism that has ensured our survival throughout the millenia but can make it difficult for us to control ourselves in the constant presence of an abundance of food. But I do believe that over time, we can learn to eat more mindfully. The way of eating described in this book is not akin to a diet, something you go on and off of. It’s a lifestyle change. A true lifestyle change–not a diet in the guise of a lifestyle change. Nothing is forbidden and occasional splurges are encouraged. It’s a system of checks and balances. If you indulge one day, you simply cut back the next. At its heart, this book is a manual that can help you learn to eat for pleasure.

I have been on countless diets over the years but none of them worked. I would start to gain the weight back before I even reached my goal weight. By following Mireille’s advice, I have been able to lose twenty-five pounds and keep it off for four years without feeling deprived. I don’t necessarily eat how much I want whenever I want, but I do eat what I want. And that to me is most important, because a life without cheese, chocolate and French bread is just not worth living!

 

 

*not her real name

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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