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Blueberry Lime Jam

July. Summer. Fruit Season. Blueberries… {swoon} As someone who didn’t grow up with access to fresh ones, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to enjoy them as much as I can want for the past decade, call me a late blue-mer, if you wish. I bought close to three kilos of these plump indigo-colored berries last week: I ate them, baked with them, made smoothie pops with them, and made jam. Nothing says ‘I love you, fruit!‘ than consuming them in different ways every single day.

Homemade Preserves and Jams

One thing I haven’t posted on this blog are jam recipes and I have no good explanation for this. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I make them late at night when food lighting sucks (and I couldn’t be bothered to shoot photos by the stove with its incandescent lighting), or early in the morning right before breakfast and I simply have no time (or brain power) to think about photos. I know, it’s all about the photos for us food bloggers. And Instagram.

Today I have good reason to be talking about jam because I recently received a copy of Mary Tregellas’ new cookbook, Homemade Preserves & Jams: Over 90 Recipes for Luscious Jams, Tangy Marmalades, Crunchy Chutneys, and More. It’s a beautifully designed paperback that’s just the right size and weight for bringing everywhere (I do this with cookbooks) — like grabbing it last-minute before going to the farmer’s market to get some ideas. I’m thinking of packing this on our next island trip to make full use of the fresh fruits we find.

The recipes are very approachable, clear and concise. Each recipe is laid out in a single page, with often short ingredient list on the left and the step-by-step instructions to its right. Most are accompanied by photos. The book contains a primer on equipment, ingredient notes, and preserving tips, which are very helpful. I appreciate that it doesn’t inundate you with too much information, but has enough to get you started. As you can guess from the title, it does have more to offer: pesto, salads, scones, breads (yes, bread), tarts, and infused liqueurs. Recipes are grouped according to: Luscious, Juicy, Crunchy, Tangy, Tropical, Wholesome, Aromatic, Wild, Intoxicating and Daily Bread. That’s the most part if you would like to know what you can make with the produce you have on hand. Thankfully, the index does its job of pointing you in the right direction.

All in all, it’s a well-rounded book that’s best suited for beginners and preserving enthusiasts like me. This is the perfect gift for friends who are interested in making jams and preserves, but are too intimidated by the process and perceived “complicated know-how” — I know, because I used to be one of them. While it is not a comprehensive reference, this is a great Let’s-Make-Something-Now book, which to be honest, is what you want while the summer fruits and vegetables last.

Because I’m all about the blueberry right now, I made half the recipe for Blueberry Jam with a dash of lime. It made enough for us to last for a few weeks, plus a jar or two give away.

Blueberry Lime Jam

toast + butter + jam = Love

The hint of lime becomes more pronounced after a couple of days. Next time I would even add some finely chopped Moroccan mint for the jar that we’ll consume right away. The jam just has that kind of blueberry mojito character.

Blueberry Lime Jam

BC Blueberry Facts: 1. We have a BC Blueberry Council, which sounds like a cool company to work for, just because of the name. 2. British Columbia has over 800 blueberry growers. 3. BC is the number one highbush blueberry-growing region in the world.

For those of you who are still undecided whether jamming is something you’d like, just invest about half an hour of your time to try this out. It really doesn’t require much effort.

Blueberry Lime Jam

Cooking the blueberries until they soften.

Trust me, you’ll be happy you made it. It’s great on pancakes and waffles, PB&J sandwiches, muffins, rolls, biscuits, what have you. I even added it to blueberry smoothie popsicles!

Blueberry Lime Jam

Cooked blueberries with sugar and pectin added.

Blueberry Lime Jam
Recipe type: Jam
 
Ingredients
  • 1.5 pounds (680 grams) fresh blueberries
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • juice of ¼ lemon
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1.5 pounds (680 grams) white sugar
  • 5 tablespoons liquid pectin
Instructions
  1. Mix the blueberries, lime juice and zest, lemon juice and water in a preserving/muslin pan or large heavy-based stainless steel pan. Cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, until the blueberries soften. Some will burst, while others will grow extra plump. Use a long wooden spoon to stir occasionally.
  2. Take the pan off the heat and stir in sugar until fully dissolved. Return the pan to the heat and boil. Allow to cook at full rolling boil for 4 minutes, then add pectin. Boil for another minute or two. Take the pan off the heat and proceed with testing for a set.
  3. Test for a set using the wrinkle test: Chill a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes. Place half a teaspoon of jam on the saucer and return to the freezer for a minute. Then push the jam with your finger -- it is set when it wrinkles. If it hasn't set, cook for a couple more minutes and redo the test.
  4. Ladle the hot jam into hot sterilized jars, filling them almost to the top. Screw the lid on tightly.
Notes
Makes 3 to 4 12-ounce jars of jam. Keeps for 12 months.

Posted in books and publications, fruits, quick & easy, reviews2 Comments

Cooking for Friends with Whitewater Cooks with Friends

Last February, Rachel asked via email if I was interested in reviewing Shelley Adams’ third and most recent book in her acclaimed Whitewater Cooks series, Whitewater Cooks with Friends. I have heard very good things about it and I’m eager to support a Canadian author and publisher, so I gladly said yes.

Shelley and her husband used to own the Whitewater Ski Resort in Nelson, BC, where she ran the Fresh Tracks Cafe. [I’ve never been there, sadly.] The first two cookbooks were born out of guests’ and locals’ requests for their recipes. This third installation came together after the couple retired, when Shelley thought that she’s done writing cookbooks. Her previous book collaborators and friends were more than happy to help her produce this stunning collection of recipes for the home cook.

The book arrived before one weekend and it just so happened that we had already invited a couple of friends with the promise of a home-cooked dinner that Sunday. Luring people with food almost always works and it’s a good excuse to get together. We usually make something we’ve made before and/or are fairly familiar with, but we were feeling quite adventurous and picked 2 dishes from the book with our Italian and Chinese friends in mind: a tomato and red lentil bisque and a seafood pasta with an Asian twist. To make it even extra special, we made some fresh pasta an hour before dinner. There’s something about kneading the dough by hand and rolling it with a hand-cranked machine. And we don’t mind taking the extra effort to make something from scratch for friends and family — they are worth it. [** My stand-by fresh pasta recipe is from Giuliano and Lael Hazan’s website, using 00 Flour.]

Whitewater Cooks with Friends by Shelley Adams

Our friends didn’t know they were going to be our test subjects for the cookbook until they arrived, but thankfully, they were willing to try whatever we served them. They helped us out in the kitchen, too. I love it when people get involved with the food, then enjoying the fruits of our labor afterwards in bowl- and platefuls.

We started off with the bisque with notes of cumin, ginger, mustard, turmeric, coriander, bay leaves, and a hint of jalapeño. The soup base of tomato, coconut milk and vegetable stock was hearty, but light enough that going for seconds would be easy to do even for a 3-course meal. Jens usually makes an Indian lentil soup similar to this, but we loved the Asian flavours mixed in here as well.

Tomato and Red Lentil Bisque

Tana’s Tomato and Red Lentil Bisque

We chatted a bit while the fresh pasta was cooking in a vigorously boiling pot of water, and Jens was quickly sauteing the garlic, onions, preserved black beans, tomatoes, chili flakes, prawns and scallops. There was much anticipation as steam wafted from the thick bubbling tomato sauce, across the kitchen and into the dining room. Before tossing everything together, a vote for how much arugula should be put came up. It turns out we all like it, so we had some slightly wilted with the hot pasta, and crunchy ones added just before serving.

Fettuccine with Prawns, Scallops, Chilis and Preserved Beans

Barely a phrase was said amongst four while we devoured our initial helping. The touch of saltiness and umami from the beans, with the peppery arugula and the touch of acidity from the tomatoes and the sweet fresh seafood melded together just like old friends catching up where they’ve left off. The black beans were similar to capers in pasta dishes, imparting saltiness, so if you’re not into the latter for pastas, it’s a good alternative.

Dinner was finished off with freshly baked pear frangipane brioche tarts and tea. We didn’t get a chance to make dessert from the book because we’ve already pre-made the brioche and frangipane, but there were more than a handful of pages bookmarked for near-future use, such as Lava Cakes with Sour Cherries — oh, yes!

We’re enjoying Whitewater Cooks with Friends so far. In fact, we cooked a miso-glazed black cod from the book a few days after this feast. It will definitely be in continuous rotation in our kitchen, both for family meals and cooking for friends.

What we love about the book so far:

– Most dishes were familiar and approachable, with each recipe having a unique twist. Those we’ve prepared so far introduced us to flavor profiles we would have otherwise overlooked.

– The flavors are spot on and are perfectly balanced.

– Wide variety of recipes, even vegetarians and pescetarians would love.

– Most dishes are quick to make, about 30 minutes to an hour.

– Most ingredients are already things you’ll have in stock, or are easy to find. If not, they can be easily substituted.

– Recipes are clearly laid out (not paragraph style), and it’s hard to miss a step.

– Notes on where to get ingredients in Nelson BC, which I found quite charming. It makes me want to go to there for a visit.

– Small-town feel from the headnotes to the recipe notes (see above) but boasts of big flavors.

– Beautiful photography for each dish.

If you’re looking for another cookbook to add to your collection, this would be a valuable thing to have. Ah, and a bonus: you will find yourself using it more and more, too.

Review

Posted in books and publications, reviews0 Comments

New York Style Crumb Cake

Before I picked up the new “Baked Explorations” cookbook, coffee and crumb cakes meant the same thing to me and I order them faithfully at coffee shops. Color me surprised when I read that there is something called a New York Style Crumb Cake, and it must never, ever, be confused with coffee cake. Honestly, I thought the crumbs were just a matter of preference! Until, of course, I saw the recipe. For sure I thought it must be a joke that the crumb part had more than 2 cups of sugar. Who does that on purpose? During this time of the year when eating healthy seems to be at its height, whoa, I was on sugar death watch alert. But. I trusted the recipe. I gave the authors the benefit of the doubt and let them have it their way with their cake. The sacrificial lamb. And should this had been a failure, you will never hear of it from me because I will give away the book.

As you can tell, it ended well and the crumb cake survived the scrutiny of family and friends, again and again. The crumb was a toss for me — although it was delish, others thought the base cake itself was the true winner and they would have it any day — flavorful, filling and moist even after 3 days. It actually tastes like puto, the light brown steamed rice cake that we eat in the Philippines. I’ve made many variations of this crumb cake and even so far as ‘ruining’ the crumb, slashing it in half and playing with my own ingredients. In all its incarnations in the kitchen, it had withstood the test of many variations. And that, my friends, is a good thing. Because no matter what you prefer, this cake will work for you.

The recipe makes a large cake and begs to be packed on its merry way to a lot of willing bellies. Go ahead, don’t be shy! It’s a total charmer. In fact, yesterday, a soaking wet Vancouver day, I met up with a few friends and gave a few slices to each of them. They were heartily received and from the messages I’ve received today — they were all devoured and enjoyed to the fullest.

Go forth and bake and share! Have a great weekend!

If you’re looking for something beefy to cook this winter weekend: check out my Asian Style Beef Chili with Garlic Fried Rice! And get a chance to win $100 from Canadian Beef, too!

   Get the recipe for New York-Style Crumb Cake

Posted in baking, books and publications, cakes, coffee buddy, sweets20 Comments

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

Imagine this: It’s the middle of the night. The windows and door leading to the patio are open, the air is crisp, and you’re leisurely reading a book (the only time you have to do so is at odd hours of the eve) while you wait for something baking in the oven. Chocolate laced with summers of your childhood eating spoonfuls of peanut butter wafts in the air; something good’s almost ready. The timer beeps and you make your way to the kitchen to shush the persistent timekeeper. You open the oven door and the aroma of warm peanut butter cups makes you smile, and pause, before reaching out your mitt-covered hands. Helpless, you cross the fine line of reason and stupidity, immediately dunk a spoon — not even a knife — into the hot baking pan and taste it. Curses of euphoria and a shot back to reality ensues.

Hmm. That may or may not have been me. The tip of my tongue is  also not slightly numb right now. {big grin}

I could blame it all on this: A few weeks ago, I sat in the makeshift large conference hall at Theo Chocolate in Seattle for IFBC on a Sunday morning, listening to Shauna of Glutenfreegirl.com as she talked about blogging for specialized diets. Even from afar you can tell that this woman lives with her half glass full. Instead of soliloquies of I-can’t’s, her approach to celiac disease is inclusive: What can I eat? That talk was huge for me and I was drawn to learn more about gluten-free cooking and baking. I just started and I’m hooked.

Say hello to these peanut butter brownies. I would devour a whole pan of it if I knew I could live after such gluttony.

You know you want some. Wink, wink.

Clearly, as someone who can choose not to be on any special diet, I was the one missing out! These are insanely good. Will you forgive me if I keep baking GF brownies like this for a while?

I have Shauna (Gluten Free Girl) and Danny (the Chef) to thank for generously sharing the recipe for this. I’m happy in the belly. :-) Their 2nd book is just hot off the press and I highly recommend you check it out, whether you’re on a GF diet or not. Take a look at Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes and if you pick up a copy you’ll find these brownies!

I’m eagerly awaiting for my package from Amazon so I can try more recipes and tell you about them. For now, this Wordless Wednesday turned out to be very wordy. Ah!

Posted in baking, books and publications, chocolate5 Comments

Will Write For Food

If you’re a food blogger, then you probably know Dianne Jacob. If you’re a food writer and/or a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), you probably know her as well. IF you are either of the two and don’t know her,  get with the program {smile}. She wrote this gem of a book 5 years ago called, “Will Write For Food“, an invaluable resource on food writing. A good number of food writers will probably tell you that hers was the first book they read on the subject.

I edited the photo of the book for Blogathon 2009.

I was a bit late into the scene, being a cooking hobbyist and a food blogger. The first edition (on the right) came to my attention early least year. Admittedly, I battled with it a few times because of the writing exercises, which taunted the defiant student within me. I approached Dianne several months later at BlogHer Food ’09 and said something like, “It made me cry/suffer (because of said exercises),” the dramatic Leo coming out. [Goodness, yes, I said that. We’re still friends, right?] What I should’ve blurted out was, “But what about blogs, Ms. Jacob, can you give food writing advice to blogs?” It was more of a wish than a question.

That wish was granted this summer with the release of the 2nd edition, the digital coming of age version, where what used to be the lowly food blog  had earned its own chapter. In fact, Dianne herself started a blog in 2009, signaling her own immersion in the blogging world. And of course, the Internet embraced it, with her thought-provoking posts on food writing.

I recently met Dianne again during the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle and she mentioned she’ll be in town, a treat for those of us across the border —

If you are in Vancouver, Canada Dianne Jacob will be at Barbara-Jo’s tomorrow,
September 14, 2010 6:00pm

1740 West 2nd Avenue (half a block east of Burrard)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6J 1H6

Tel #604-688-6755

Now onto the book!

Here are the chapters of the 2nd edition and some highlights I noted:

1 What, Exactly, is Food Writing?
– writing with the senses, passion in writing, writing voice, writers describing their own voices

2 Characteristics of a Food Writer
traits based on interviews with food writers and editors

3 Getting Started
a day in the life of several writers, how food writers got their start, an excellent reading list for those wanting to expand their knowledge

4 Get Published with a Food Blog
[New chapter in the revised and updated edition]
–  includes suggestions on what kind of posts to write, photography, book and product reviews, ethics, SEO and online exposure, going from blog to book, classes and references (that new bloggers may not have heard of)

As a regular reader of Dianne’s blog, I can tell that this chapter drew upon her own experience online and the wealth of information from various food bloggers. It was interesting to see hot blogging topics, such as product reviews, being included.

5 Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer
– story ideas, positioning and targeting your story, finding markets, crafting a query letter, writing and editing your work, ways to make decent money

6 Secrets of Restaurant Reviewing
– how-to, restaurant checklist, good and negative reviews, describing food, education, getting started and paid

7 The Cookbook You’ve Always Wanted to Write
– what makes a good cookbook idea, different kinds of cookbooks

8 The Art of Recipe Writing
– recipe development, philosophy of recipe writing, parts of a recipe and how to write them, attribution and copyright

9 Memoir and Nonfiction Food Writing
- food-based memoirs, food history, cultural anthropology and philosophy, guidebooks, biographies, food and health books, kitchen science, adventures, journalism and essays

10 Writing About Food in Fiction
I barely glossed over this section, but for your benefit, it includes mysteries, characters plucked out of the food business, classic literature, and children’s books

11 How To Get Your Book Published
This is another section I skipped, but it includes a guide for writing book proposals, main issues to negotiate in a publishing contract, and avenues for self-publishing.

The updated Selected  Web Sites section itself is worth checking out, with lists of magazines and web sites that take freelance writing, food writing classes, and food studies.

The question is:  Should you get the new “Will Write For Food“?

For the new and veteran food bloggers and writers: Yes! Whether you are doing this for fun, trying your chance at–or carving–a new career, this book will provide you with information and tools to improve your writing,. The exercises after each chapter (except for the last) are great starting points or refreshers. The lists of online and offline resources that Ms. Jacob provides are treasures themselves.

For those who already own the first edition: If you want to stay relevant with food writing in the digital age, yes. The 4th chapter on publishing a food blog is not the only update to this book, just so you know. Having read both, poring over the new edition felt like finally engaging with someone who knows that the Internet provides a viable avenue for food writing. Here’s a book that knows new media, our  medium –blogs.

Posted in books and publications, events8 Comments

Recipe for German Chocolate Cake and our Olympic Mitts Winner

Olympic Mitts

Remember about our Olympic giveaway last month? After compiling all entries from comments, Facebook fans, and (mostly) newsletter subscribers, we ended up with 442 entries. Whew!

So what I did to randomize the process in the fairest manner I could make it, is to have all entries on a spreadsheet.

There were double entries for the subscribers and fans, and single ones for the comments–as stated in the ‘rules’.

I added an additional column for the randomized sequence, which I generated through the Sequence Generator. Then I copied the resulting list into the new column, so that each entry will have a random number assigned to it. Sounds fancy, but it’s really simple.

I picked one random winner through Random.org again…and the winner is — Shawna, a longtime newsletter subscriber!

You will receive an email from me. :) Congratulations!!!

- – – – – – – – -

Now let’s move on to the German Chocolate Cake that doesn’t have anything to do with Germany, but has everything to do with chocolate and caramel decadence.

German Chocolate Cake

I'm sorry if I just met you! Clearly it's a sign that I should make up for all the lost years and make you every month. (Good thing my doctor doesn't read this blog.)

Hail be to Samuel German who created Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate brand, for which this recipe was created. Got it? Eventually the ‘s was dropped. [This convolution reminds me of none other than Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Mmm…]

So you see friends, if you are like me, you can stop wondering why in the world Germans have some coconut in their cake. Excuse my ignorance. The first time I ate this cake was right after I baked it. No joke.

German Chocolate Cake

It might not look like much, that light brown on dark brown action. I have to say, I have mistakenly underestimated this cake before I took a bite.

Was I the last person to discover this cake? It’s okay. You can tell me the truth. I’m totally fine with that. As long as you think it’s completely alright that I make this several times a month to make you jealous until you make it yourself. If not, head over to Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle which, according to @Lovelylanvin, makes a really good one!

Because. What could be better than moist and fluffy chocolate cake layers with custard-y caramel filling with coconut and pecans?

German Chocolate Cake

Four of my most favorite things in the world--chocolate cake + condensed milk cooked with eggs + coconut + pecans--in one life-altering bite.

I just could not stop eating it. I blame the cake entirely. I haven’t been on a scale since this cake was baked, but I’ve gone back to running regularly. That’s how guilty I feel, but oh so good! It’s a required indulgence.

The recipe for this cake was adapted from this lovely, lovely book:

Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum (she blogs!)

I love Rose’s meticulously detailed recipes that hold your hand through the whole process of preparing, baking, and assembling the cakes. I’ve made a few already from this book and I highly recommend it! No, this is not your last-minute go-to cake book. You need to plan ahead, not only to read the recipe carefully and check that you have all the ingredients, but also for making the cakes. They’re not quick fixes, but you will be rewarded with cakes that you didn’t think could possibly come from your own kitchen. They are indeed heavenly…amazing! cakes.
Go get it if you really want to bake cakes that impress.

Get the recipe for the German Chocolate here (PDF download included)

Posted in baking, books and publications, cakes, chocolate, coffee buddy, contest, dessert13 Comments

Eggplant and Chard Lasagne and Being a Reluctant Gardener

In case you’re in the mood for lasagne, and up for something different, try this Eggplant and Chard Lasagne. Yes, it’s vegetarian and it’s incredibly good in a Wow-That’s-Vegetarian?! kind of way. I served it to a group of carnivores who whined (a little) before tasting it. They shut up after the first bite. Then, the rest of the lasagna was history…gone with the skeptic wind.

Eggplant and Chard Lasagne

I really, really wish you could taste this right now!

Eating what I consider a “balanced” diet

I do love my chocolates, high-fat Irish butter, desserts and everything sweet, so I try to balance them out with oatmeal or 2% greek yogurt in the mornings, and vegetable/fruit-rich dishes the rest of the day [Keep in mind: I try, but it doesn’t always happen.]. Having said that, I also don’t see the point of dreading a lackluster meal only to make myself feel better with too much dessert. And let’s face it–it’s way easier to keep eating dessert…so very easy. I want to eat with a good diet in mind, but I don’t want to eat like I’m missing out. I’m with the camp who believes that eating healthier shouldn’t mean resigning to eating food that taste like crap.

After having cooked several recipes from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone thinking of putting more vegetable dishes on their tables. Remember the split pea soup? Yum! This lasagne? Oh my. It’s another winning combination, and I can’t believe I’ve never used chard and eggplant together like this, it’s so deviously simple.

I wasn’t quite sure how it would taste from the recipe, to be honest, but knowing that my fellow food blogging pal Dana made it before was the extra assurance I needed to feel at ease making this for the first time and serving it to hungry non-vegetarian bellies.

And you know what? It was a smashing success of a pasta dish. If you taste this, you won’t say: “This tastes good for vegetarian…” It is awesome. Period. No need to label it as “vegetarian” as an excuse for its taste. I know what it’s like. I used to wince whenever someone said the V-word. I die a little each time then, if I want to be dramatic about it. But this. Oh, I love it! I’ve no qualms about serving it to anyone. I plan to serve this at my next birthday party, and it won’t need the usual introduction of, “That’s vegetarian, FYI.”

Eggplant and Chard Lasagne

Dig in.

It tastes like lasagne (in case you’re wondering). It’s not too leafy, not too rich. It’s filling, but it won’t weigh you down–y’know that feeling with pasta that’s bloated you can barely look at it before thinking there’s just no way I could eat that? I was quite surprised at how good eggplant was in between sheets of pasta, and really being good friends with wilted chard. Mmmm…mmm!

So the question is: would I pick this over the conventional lasagne if I had the choice? YES! Oh, heck, YES!

Truly, I love the dish as is, but something’s missing. With the beginning of spring, I can’t help but think of how it could be better with garden-fresh eggplants and chard. Yeah, I’m going to go all oogly-vegetably on you now.

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, a-gardening we go!

I won’t lie. I don’t have a green thumb (although he says there is no such thing) and gardening became obliterated from my thinking process before I reached my teens. Gardening wha’? Before that, I enjoyed mostly third-party gardening. I was perfectly content with watering the plants and removing/cutting the occasional dried stem or leaf. The major dig-ins, I just watch while others do it. My forte was harvesting and eating the fruits/vegetables, or cutting flowers and leaves to put in vases for our rooms. Very nice.

This year, I want to overcome my fear of soil–of earthworms, in particular–and start a small garden in the backyard. I used to live in a building complex where the yard consisted of rocks and manicured lawns and trees tended on an almost-daily basis by gardeners. You can’t plant. Not that it mattered at the time. Now that I’m back in the ‘burbs of Vancouver, there is actually a yard to play with.

Gulp.

I fear the yard. All it looks to me is more work when I could be tweeting instead! I’m so inspired by Kristina and Kristina‘s gardens. [Hah! Did I confuse you? Raise your hand if your name is Kristina and you garden. I see a pattern here.] I hope I’m not setting myself up for failure. We’ll see. I’ll try.

I mean…really, I will. Just thinking of having fresh produce from my own garden makes me happy. And I know that sounds like the geekiest food-related thing I’ve said. Help.

Do you have any tips for a newbie gardener like me? Can you share links/resources or books/primers to read?

I want to have a vegetable garden and eat the fruits of my labor. Hopefully, we can get soil this weekend. And no, I have not read a single book on gardening. Can gardening knowledge be–hold your breath–organic? :D

Get the recipe for Eggplant and Chard Lasagne (includes PDF)

Posted in books and publications, cheese, healthier choices, main dishes, pasta, vegetables, vegetarian4 Comments

Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough Recipe and Some Exciting News

I’ve been participating in, and hosting, snail mail exchanges online since 2001. Last December, we had the Secret Santa Foodie, where everybody got together to spread some holiday cheer. I ‘met’ a lot of new people, including Adrienne Mitra, who owns a travel agency with her husband. What’s so interesting is that they offer fully-customized culinary travel tours. Food and travelwhat’s not to love? It’s impossible to have someone you know at every travel destination, who can point you to to the good eats or the best classes where you can learn to cook the regional fare. Guidebooks can only take you so far and it’s rare to have an unlimited vacation time to figure everything out. That’s where they come in. CITTravel runs through Adrienne’s veins and she loves good food. She is passionate about helping people plan their vacation according to how they want it, and not according to set “packages” (that term makes her cringe). And if there’s one thing I can attest to about Adrienne, she gets things done and she is on top of things — okay, that’s two! After talking and emailing with her, teaming up with them just seemed like an organic thing to do. So I’m very happy to introduce Celebrations International Travel to you guys! Please join us in welcoming them! Check out their site and their blog. You will learn more about them in the coming weeks and months. I’ll be inviting Adrienne to do a guest post about their culinary tours.

This is right up our alley, don’t you think? As the busy travel and vacation season begins, and as some of us scramble to make plans for the rest of the year (ahem, Me!), I can’t wait to find out what they have in store!

———

Now onto the recipe!

Neapolitan PIzza

MMM…pizza! Whether it be for any meal (yes, even breakfast — admit it!), a casual get-together or game night, the beloved pizza is welcome in our homes and in our bellies. Of course, there’s the debate about which is better: deep-dish or thin crust pizza, but we’ll leave that alone. For now, I’ll talk about my kind of pizza: thin, light, and beautifully blistered pizzas. You heard me: blistered. I get excited over the perfect thin crust!

Neapolitan-style pizza

We’ve been to the much-talked about Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, and my love for that pizza is right up there with Itzhak Perlman — that’s a high pedestal. The long line to get into the main restaurant is something I’d rather forget, though.

The following crust is no Pizzeria Bianco, and I can’t say it tastes the same as the A16 restaurant’s pizza (I haven’t eaten there), but one thing is for sure, this dough has earned top place among the pizza dough recipes I’ve tried.

pizza dough

Being at the top means there are also no compromises, especially when it comes to time. The A16 Neapolitan pizza dough takes the most number of days to make: three, realistically. But you can definitely make it in two if you plan ahead after reading the recipe. Raise your hand if you sometimes don’t carefully read the recipe before deciding to make it. Who does that? Hah.

I don’t have more “after” photos because I was busy stretching the pizza, filling it, transferring it to to oven, and preparing the next pie while that cooks for 7 minutes. Whew. I ran a tight ship and by the time I finished rolling out 4 pizzas, I just had enough to eat and hunger beat food porn. Plus, it’s something that can wait to be eaten. It was incredibly satisfying and even with all the work and wait involved, this is worth making again and again!

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Posted in announcements, baking, books and publications, make-ahead, pizza, Uncategorized4 Comments

Strawberry Ganache Fudge Cake: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

I love you more than rainbows.” – Ryan Bingham (best original song, Crazy Heart) When I heard that, I went “AWWW”. How cute was that speech at the Oscar’s?! [I’m a total sap!] I’m watching it as I type, can you tell?

This (raw) fudge cake might just be more lovable than those colorful arches.

Strawberry Ganache Fudge Cake: the indulgent-tasting cake that looks good and makes you feel good

The oh-so-decadent-looking ganache–would you believe me when I say it’s made of dates, agave syrup, avocado, and cacao powder? Grins. No, it’s not April Fool’s Day yet. This total eye candy is good for you!

In the beginning I wasn’t sure it would be as good as Elle said it would. It’s not that I don’t trust her, or Ani Phyo (the cookbook author). It’s just that the ingredient combination was a bit foreign to me. Really? Avocado?! I grew up eating avocados as dessert topped with powdered milk and sugar, so the sweet part I got. But…with chocolate? You’re kidding!

My apprehension disappeared as soon as I prepared and tasted it. Oh…my…god!

Chocolate ganache

Raw ganache: the stuff of raw dessert heaven!

This chocolate frosting is UNreal in flavor. Wow. You wouldn’t think it has avocado in it. It is as good-no even better-than it looks.

Each cake layer is made of ground walnuts, cacao powder, medjool dates and salt. The major challenge for me when I made this was shaping the cake into 2 stackable layers. My smallest springform pan was 8 inches, and that produced a layer too thin to hold its shape. I ended up using a smaller-diameter fondue pot that I lined with aluminum foil tso I can easily pop out the layer once it’s compressed into a compact disc.

Pressing the cake into one compact disc

This is my low-tech solution to shaping the cake layers. It works.

I was eager to devour it after putting on the first layer of ganache, especially after tasting it with some leftover cake crumbs. I love eating tasting everything while making stuff.

First cake layer

First cake layer frosted with ganache

The original recipe called for fresh raspberries. I had strawberries at the time, so I sliced and macerated them in agave syrup for extra softness and moisture.

First layer of the strawberry ganache fudge cake

Mascerated sliced strawberries

After much fussing around with the frosting to make it look decent (I’m not good with icing at all), I had to wait 2 hours for the cake to firm up before cutting it.

Strawberry Ganache Fudge Cake

A piece of chocolate heaven.

It was love at first bite. I know I say that about a lot of desserts, but wow, this was on its own level of chocolate goodness. If I was to make a list of 100 Things To Eat Before You Die, this will definitely make the cut. Ultra smooth and creamy ganache on two layers of nutty cakes and a soft layer of macerated strawberries in the middle – what could be better? It’s raw and it’s healthy for you, that’s what! This is pure indulgence without the guilt.

Don’t even entertain second thoughts, just make this now. This is pure indulgence without the guilt.

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Posted in books and publications, cakes, chocolate, dessert, fruits, healthier choices17 Comments

Split Pea Soup

There’s nothing as comforting in winter as a good soup, especially a hearty split pea soup. This one is fully vegetarian, with all the goodness of homemade vegetable stock. The original recipe called for a lot of fresh herbs, which I didn’t have because I ran out and there wasn’t time to go out and buy them. What I had instead were dried rosemary, thyme and bay leaves, and fresh mint leaves. The latter was a very nice addition to the soup and if I had to do it all over again, I’d make this soup with the same ingredients.

A few weeks ago, I asked for vegetarian cookbook recommendations on Twitter. One of the top two mentioned by my Twitter pals is Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I didn’t realize it was like The Vegetarian Cooking Tome–the massive amount of recipes overwhelmed me the minute I held it. I haven’t delved that much into vegetarian cooking (there’s always a slight meat component in most of my vegetable dishes), so I didn’t know where to start. That week, we were having an incredibly cold and rainy week, as is typical for Vancouver winter. It was starting to get really old and the only thing that could really lighten the mood up was a good bowl of soup. When I looked through the cookbook, this one jumped at me. This would be the books “first test”.

Friends, do you do that, too, when you have a new cookbook? Do you test out a few recipes to see if the cookbook will be worth its place as a standby in the kitchen? For me, if one recipe succeeds, it stays near the kitchen and I continue to cook from it. If it fails, I’ll give it 2 more tries before I ditch it. What about you? How many recipes do you test before it gets a Yay or a Nay?

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

This recipe definitely earned a “Yay!” in my book.

I love when everything goes together and the whole experience of making a dish somehow connects you to the author, through the methods, the flavors, and the culmination in the forms of a really good meal and a silent Thank You to the mind that created something so wonderful. A regular dinner turned into something special. Yes, I romanticize about meals, and if this was a date, I’m picking the phone to ask for a second. ;-)

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Posted in books and publications, healthier choices, soups, vegetables, vegetarian11 Comments