Friday, May 29, 2009

Udon, Porc and Shittake Mushroom Soup

I've been pretty busy lately.... and sadly just realized that I forgot to celebrate my 100 posts mark. I guess it's never to late to start the festivities, so happy 100th posts chocolate shavings!

"Chocolate Shavings...." my dad said on the phone the other day. "How did you come up with that name anyway? Is it a reference to the many, many baking experiences you had in our family kitchen growing up?" I paused. True, I started baking when I was pretty young. Making various baked goods was one of my great hobbies, and I learned early on that I didn't really like to follow recipes. I would come up with my own crazy concoctions and make the whole family eat it. Sometimes they were good... sometimes not so much. "You're right dad.. but I really enjoy cooking savory foods too. The name chocolate shavings is my way of mentioning all the little cooking tricks that turn a meal from a simple cooked dish to something chocolate shavings added to a white chocolate mousse, or lemon zest sprinkled over a simple fennel salad...or a drizzle of truffle oil added to everyday mashed potatoes." My dad paused. "I see, well maybe you should come home more often. Teach me how to move away from the microwave and start using a real pan". My dad has a growing kitchen love affair with microwaves. It's the only kitchen utensil he uses to perfection, and the one that saves him when my mom's not there to save the day. "Well, whatever it is, your site always makes me hungry". That was the best compliment of my day, and comforts me in the fact that I couldn't have chosen a better carreer to dedicate my time to.

This soup is one of my latest concoctions. The meatballs are made with basic asian-inspired flavors (sesame oil, scallions, chinese chives, soy sauce)and are cooked in a simple chicken stock based broth flavored with shittake mushrooms. The mushrooms darken the broth and give it a lovely rich color. I served it with udon noodles, but the soup would be delicious without them as well.

Udon, Porc and Shittake Mushroom Soup (serves 4)
For the meatballs
1/2 lb of ground pork
2 leaves of napa cabbage, finely diced
4 shittake mushrooms, finely diced
1 green onion, finely diced
3 chinese chives, finely diced
2 teaspoons of finely diced ginger
1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of corn starch

For the broth
2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup of water
a pinch of powdered dashi stock (optional)
a good handful of udon noodles, cooked
4 shittake mushrooms, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
a handful of chopped coriander, to serve

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients to make the meatballs. Make sure that all the ingredients are very finely diced. Form into bite size meatballs and reserve.

In a stockpot, add the chicken stock and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer. Add the dashi. Carefully add the meatballs. Cook for 5 minutes and add the mushrooms and green onion. cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the meatballs are just cooked through. Add the warm cooked noodles to your serving bowls, and top with the meatballs and broth. Serve with chopped coriander. Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake

I've been meaning to make a strawberry shortcake for a while now, and finally got around to it this weekend. It was the perfect dessert to bring for a post BBQ meal - it tastes light (it's not really, but the airy whipped cream makes it feel like it is!) and it's pretty quick to make. I omitted the gelatin though - firstly because I didn't have any, but also because a couple of our friends don't eat meat. Made with animal product (think collagen derived from animals' skin and bones) it's really not the nicest thing to slip into a cake when some of your friends are vegetarian. The cake turned out fine without it, and I don't think the gelatin would have added that much more to the texture of the cream.

This is one of those great dessert for big gatherings. It presents very nicely, boosts great summer colors and, most importantly, is delicious.

Strawberry Shortcake
(Serves 12), adapted from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 pound strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan, and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour paper and sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in 3 parts and milk in 2, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, split cake in half horizontally; place bottom half, cut side up, on a serving plate.

Make topping: In a large bowl, combine strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl until very soft peaks form.

Arrange half of strawberries over bottom cake layer; top with half of whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Cover with top half of cake, cut side down. Top cake with remaining whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Refrigerate cake and remaining strawberries separately, at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). Just before serving, spoon strawberries over cake.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oyako Don

I've always had a soft spot for Japanese cuisine - it's healthy, uses wonderfully fresh ingredients and is bursting with flavor and color. I think it all started when I tasted sushi for the first time in high school. I remember trying to get my parents to appreciate it as much as I did, with little success. My mom is happy with a chirashi at lunch sometimes now (she really likes raw salmon) but I never got them to appreciate much else. I guess there's something about raw fish that doesn't appeal to everyone - much like my love for beef tartare that has given me some strange looks in the past in North America. But my sushi journey continued nontheless - from soft shell crab sushi rolls a couple years ago in Sydney to scallop sashimi from one of my favorite sushi restaurants in Montreal. Good sushi is expensive though, that's a given. A lot of sushi places in Canada try to sell you on the cheaper stuff, but I really don't like it. The cream cheese and sun-dried tomato sushi I've seen is just not my thing... neither is most of the mayonnaise-based rolls with very little fish. So, it turns out that I have been spending more than advised on really good sushi.

Ordering Oyako Don is a great option for those times when you can't spend too much on sushi rolls. You can indulge on a few pieces of sushi as an appetizer, and get a comforting bowl of Japanese rice with sweet mirin-licked onions, tender chicken and egg. The taste of this dish is so very unique - it's sweet and salty, with layers of flavor coming from dashi stock, soy sauce and mirin. It's really, really delicious. Oliver and I tried to make it at home a few times, and I think we've come pretty close to what we get at the restaurant. And the best part? It's ready in 20 minutes (I guess that sounds a little Rachel-Ray like, but you get the point).

Oyako Don (serves 4)
2 cups of sushi rice, cooked
1 white onion, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup of dashi stock
2 teaspoons of mirin
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 pinch of brown sugar
4 chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
2 green onions, sliced
3 eggs, beaten

Heat a little vegetable oil in pan on medium heat and add the onions. Add the dashi, mirin, soy sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 7-8 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the chicken. Cover and cook for 7-8 minutes - stirring a few times. Add the green onions and stir. Pour the beaten eggs over the chicken and onion mixture in an even layer. Cover and cook until the egg is just set.

Serve over Japanese rice. Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Grilled Zucchini Salad

Here is my 3rd zucchini recipe for the summer. This is a salad I've been making for ages. It's simple, crisp and puts a smile on my face every time I serve it. You can easily switch it by using a medley of different vegetables - and can hold off on the chili if you don't enjoy the spice. I'm happy to say that my tolerance to spiciness has somewhat improved...somewhat that is! Oliver has tried, tried and tried again to increase my tolerance to spice, with some success, but sadly I can't compete with his.

Out for Vietnamese pho soup, he has the habit of adding hot sauce until his eyes happily water. He definitely enjoys it that way - and I.. well, I just watch. A little dried chili in fresh summery salad though, I can take!

Grilled Zucchini Salad
(serves 4)
2 zucchinis
½ lemon, zest and juice
A small pinch of dried chili
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 small handful of fresh mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the zucchini in thin strips. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, chili and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Spoon half of this vinaigrette onto the strips of zucchini. Set your BBQ or indoor grill to medium high heat. Grill the strips for 1-2 minutes on each side.
Add the zucchini to the serving bowl and drizzle with the extra vinaigrette. Coarsely chop the mint and add to the salad. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

20 Minute Tomato Sauce

Sometimes, it's nice to get back to basics. Sure, there are great brands out there that make canned tomato sauce - and, when in a crunch, they sure come in handy - but when you have a little time, it's really a nice thing to try and make at home. Really, making tomato sauce is a pretty easy endeavor. This is the recipe I've adapted from many others I've tried, and it seems to do the trick!

And really... this tomato sauce only takes 20-25 minutes tops to make. I always make a big batch when I take the time to make it - like this week, for example. I made a hearty batch of tomato sauce yesterday, froze half of it, and am using the other half for different weekly meals. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs is always a great classic, as is any combination involving tomato sauce and pizza - but you can also use it to top simple grilled chicken breast or as a sauce to poach fish by adding a little chicken stock.

If I've learned anything from attending culinary school is that cooking is all about building layers of flavor. This is exactly what makes tomato sauce so delicious: you've got the obvious strong tomato flavor, subtle sweetness coming from the carrots, and depth in flavor coming from the herbs and aromatics. There's nothing like it!

Homemade Tomato Sauce
1 can of San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 onion
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Finely dice the onion, carrot, celery and 2 cloves of garlic. Try to keep them all the same size so that they cook evenly. In a stockpot on medium heat, add a good drizzle of olive oil and add the onion. Saute for 2 minutes, and add the carrots and celery. Add the dried oregano and bay leaves and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Crush the canned tomatoes and add the tomatoes and liquid to the stockpot. Generously season with salt and pepper and add the last garlic clove, peeled and coarsely chopped. Add the tomato paste and sugar and stir. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and discard.

Using a immersion blender, blend the tomato sauce until the sauce is well pureed. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Zucchini Chocolate Muffins

Yes, this might seem odd, but chocolate and zucchini muffins are delicious! Having just finished a series of recipes featuring zucchini, I had to include these slightly unusual sweet treats. The muffins don't overwhelmingly taste like zucchini, but zucchini does adds a lovely texture to the muffins and keeps them incredibly moist... and who could say no to a little added dose of vegetable in the day?

I really like coming up with different recipes around one ingredient. Not only does it show the wonderful range of produce like zucchini, but it also allows you to play with what's in your fridge. Do you ever buy a basket of zucchini, tomatoes or lemons to use for a specific recipe and then aren't sure what to do with the rest? Well, that used to happen to me a lot, which is why I like to plan a couple recipes around a same ingredient to spice things up a little and make sure not to waste food.

Zucchini Chocolate Muffins
(makes 12-14 muffins)
1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
7-8 ounces of zucchini (about 2 small zucchinis)
6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3/4cup of canola oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of sugar

Preheat your oven to 350F.
In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
Grate the zucchini and reserve.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and reserve.
In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, eggs, vanilla extract and sugar. Once incorporated, whisk in the flour mixture in small batches. Add the grated zucchini, and chocolate and mix.

Line a muffin pan with liners and add a big ice cream scoop of muffin batter into each muffin cup. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a cooling rack before serving. Enjoy!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Zucchini Bread

There's just something special about zucchini bread isn't there? It's savory but also sweet, and pretty hard to beat when it's just out of the oven. This recipe was given to me by one of my editors, and her recipe surely didn't disappoint! It's really easy to make and you'll have deliciously moist bread to snack on all week.

My weekend was filled with food adventures. From fried calamari at the farmer's market, to outdoor grilled pizza and olive oil vanilla cupcakes.. ending with zucchini bread. What more can one ask for?

Zucchini Bread
(for 2 small loafs of bread)

1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of canola oil
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla
3 cups of grated zucchini
3 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp of cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350F.

In big mixing bowl, add the sugars, oil, eggs, vanilla and zucchini. Mix. Add in the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon and whisk until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Grease two small loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Leave to cool on a cooling rack for a couple minutes, and serve. Enjoy!
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