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One of my favorite websites is Cookware.com, which features a plethora of products from great lines such as Le Creuset, Cuisinart, and Rachael Ray. The deals and selection are amazing. I could browse for hours, composing a list of all the bakeware, cutlery, and dishes I want to buy. If I’m looking for something specific, I know I can find it on this site. The array of products is astounding.
When Cookware.com contacted me about doing a giveaway, I was thrilled. Here is what I’ve decided on: a Le Creuset mortar and pestle set in “Caribbean Blue”. Isn’t it pretty? I bet it would look fabulous in your kitchen.
Perfect for grinding spices, making pesto or a traditional French aioli. If you want a shot of winning this little guy, please leave me a comment about your favorite holiday appetizer. The contest is available to Canadians and American readers. The deadline for responses is midnight January 3, 2010.
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I never thought I’d ever say this, but just between you and me, I’m all fooded out. It’s not just the indulgences of Christmas, but of my birthday, friends’ birthdays, my grandmother’s birthday. It seems like half the people I know were born around Christmas, and the last couple of weeks have been a non-stop party in my mouth. It’s been a good time–a fabulous time. But really. Sometimes too much is too much.
And it’s not over yet. With New Year’s around the corner, a break from the kitchen is still a way off. I know what some of you are thinking. What!? A break from the kitchen! You don’t need a break from the kitchen. Ever. You adore cooking and do it every chance you get. You cannot survive without creating something ravishing in the kitchen on a daily basis. Sorry to say, but I am not of your ilk.
Don’t get me wrong. I love cooking–except when I don’t. I’m not sure why this is. Sometimes I think it’s my terminal aloneness that is to blame. It gets too easy to eat Cheerios for dinner when no one is waiting for you at home (remember Jerry Seinfeld’s cereal boxes?). Sometimes a part of me agrees with my friend G., who once proclaimed, “Cooking for yourself is lame.”
The great thing about food blogging, though, is that every meal is a photo op, an idea for a post. Although only a small fraction of what I cook and eat makes it into this space, I’ve learned to be creative when putting together quick meals and in this puff pastry has been my greatest ally.
I haven’t worked my way up to making puff pastry myself yet, but I often have a roll of the store-bought stuff in the freezer. It’s perfect for whipping up little appetizers or free-form tarts like this one. The leeks, fresh cheese, and dash of herbs give it a touch of elegance. Serve it at a party and your guests will never believe how easy it is to make. I often eat this tart with a salad for a weekend lunch, but it could be cut into bite-sized squares for your next soiree.
Happy New Year!
Quick Leek & Fresh Cheese Tarts
Makes 4 tarts
2 sheets puff pastry
3 large leeks, sliced, white parts only
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons water
herbs de Provence
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 package Boursin cheese *
1) Preheat oven to 400F. Cook leeks in butter and water, covered, until the leeks are soft and have abosrbed the liquid, about 20 minutes.
2) Roll out puff pastry. Cut each piece in half. Make borders for the tarts by cutting thin slices of the pastry from the sides of the squares and placing them on top. Brush with egg.
3) Spread pastry squares with leeks. Crumble cheese over top. Sprinkle with herbs and a bit of salt and pepper if necessary.
4) Bake until pastry is golden brown on the edges and cheese is melted, about 20-25 minutes.
* Boursin is a fresh herb cheese with a soft and crumbly texture that is available at most grocery stores and cheese shops. It may be substituted with goat cheese; a herbed cheese tastes best with this tart.
Besides gorging on all the delectable baked goods at holiday time, I also love stuffing myself silly with the fruits of the season–mainly mandarin oranges and pomegranates. In fact, if I had to choose between the former or the latter, I would have a hard time deciding. As much as I love a good linzer cookie, I think life would seem very dull without the rich tang of pomegranate.
Pomegranates have been on my mind since POM Wonderful in California sent me several coupons for their pomegranate juice. If you haven’t tried it, run, run, run to the nearest store and get yourself some. The company grows, harvests and ships their own pomegranates, using practices that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. The juice is one hundred percent natural pomegranate, which is chock full of vitamins and antioxidants.
I picked up a few bottles at my local market and promptly made myself a pomegranate martini–probably not what POM Wonderful had in mind when offering me to try their healthy drink. Now if you’re anything like me, the more you have something you love the more you want it, and pomegranates are no exception. Soon I was looking for recipes to feed my pomegranate cravings. With a bit of sleuthing, I unearthed this recipe for Pomegranate Pound Cake, which is just as lovely as it sounds. Who would have thought of putting pomegranate seeds in cake? Not I. The addition of buttermilk to this recipe creates a moist cake that is surprisingly light–a perfect foil to tantalizing crunch of the pomegranate seeds.
Pomegranate Pound Cake
Adapted from Cooking light, November 1999
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
3/4 cup buttermilk
grated zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1 large)
1) Preheat oven to 350F. Spray pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2) Beat sugar and butter at medium-high speed with a mixer until well-blended. Add eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3) Combine buttermilk, lemon rind, vanilla and baking soda. Mix flour and salt, stirring well with a whisk.
4) Add flour mixture to sugar and butter mixture alternately. Fold in pomegranate seeds.
5) Spoon batter evenly into the pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on the wire rack.
* yogurt may be substituted for the buttermilk in the same amount
* you can use a 9 or 10-inch bundt pan or an 8×4-inch loaf pan for this cake
I have a confession to make. I never bake for the holidays. Although I’m getting better at it, baking has often been a frustrating endeavor. My creations always fall short of my vision for them. Besides that, there has never really been any need to. My mom and grandma always bake a plethora of cookies and bars in the weeks leading up to Christmas, mostly the traditional Eastern European kind that a lot of North Americans would find unfamiliar. There is a rugelach type of cookie, dusted with powdered sugar, squares made from phyllo and custard, kolache made from a yeast-risen dough and containing sour cream, or the linzer style sandwich cookies, a combination of nut-laden pastry and jam.
As impressive as these cookies are, I think I’ll leave them to the pros– at least until I get my baking skills up to par. For now, I’m going to stick with tried-and-true American recipes. I thought a pan of classic lemon bars was a good place to start. They may not be a traditional offering at the holiday table, but the splashy taste of lemon is always festive, don’t you agree?
Lemon bars have been on my mind ever since I met my writing group for lunch last weekend at the Vancouver Art Gallery. This little upscale cafeteria is a lovely place to stop for a homestyle dessert or something a bit more substantial. One bite of their buttermilk lemon bar and I knew I had to make some of my own.
In the end, I opted for a classic lemon bar from Dinner with Julie, one of my favorite blogs. No matter what I crave, I can always count on Julie. She’s a food writer with impeccable taste and a prolific blogger. Besides writing books, her job, and raising a family, she manages to blog several times a week. I don’t know how she does it.
These bars seem decadent but they’re surprisingly low fat; according to Julie, they contain less than 5 grams of fat and only 168 calories each. Good to know. That means a little more room for all those Christmas cookies.
Classic Lemon Bars
Makes 9 bars
For the base:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 scant cup all-purpose flour
For the topping:
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
1 large egg white
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
icing sugar, for sprinkling
1) Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add flour and salt and blend until crumbly and well-combined. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8’x8″ pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.
2) Bake 8 minutes, or until edges are barely golden.
3) Stir together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in the mixing bowl. Add egg, egg white, lemon zest and juice. Stir until well blended and smooth. Pour over base.
4) Bake for 25 minutes, until slightly golden and bubbly around the edges. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cut into bars.
There was a time, when I was much, much younger, that mayonnaise was on my relatively short list of reviled foods. How things have changed! Like an arachnophobic who gets over a fear of spiders through repeated exposure, the more I dabbled in mayonnaise, the more I grew to like it. My conversion was complete upon trying my own hand at the homemade stuff, when I realized most of mayo you buy in jars is but a poor imitation. ( If you missed the story the first time around, you can read it here.)
Soon a sandwich was nothing without mayo. It replaced ketchup for my fries, and I discovered the limitless dips one can make with a bit of mayo and sour cream. All was well, and then I made another discovery that rocked my world.
And I’m not talking about the kind in the squeeze tube, found on supermarket shelves, another poor substitute for the real thing. I mean a veritable , traditional garlic aioli, made with a mortar and pestle and some elbow grease. It is a garlic mayonnaise that transforms the dullest fish, is heavenly next to a bucket of frites, and de rigeur in certain French dishes like Bouillabaisse or the fish stew called Bourride.
Le Grand Aioli is the name of a dish composed of salt cod, hard boiled eggs, and squid cooked with a variety of vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and green beans accompanied, of course, by aioli.
To develop the fullest, most pungent flavor, the garlic should be pounded in the mortar with the egg yolks before beating the oil a few drops at a time, as you would when making a regular mayonnaise.
This recipe if from Anne Willan’s wonderful book The Country Cooking of France.
Aioli – Garlic Mayonnaise
Makes 1 1/2 cups/ 375 ml – Serves 6-8
2 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (more to taste)
salt & white pepper
1 1/2 cups/375 ml olive oil
1) Put the egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a mortar. * Pound with a pestle until the mixture becomes lightly thick–about 1 minute.
2) Beat in the oil gradually, a few drops at a time, until the mixture begins to emulsify and thicken considerably.
3) Transfer to a small bowl and continue to add the remaining oil in a thin, steady stream while stirring constantly with a whisk. Do not add it too quickly or the mixture will separate.
4) Taste and adjust the seasonings if required.
The mayonnaise should be thick enough to hold a spoon upright. It can be covered and kept in the fridge for up to twelve hours, but should be brought to room temperature before serving or it may separate.
*If you do not have a mortar and pestle, whisk the mixture in the bowl to start and use freshly pressed garlic.