in France and smitten

When I arrived in the South of France just over a week ago, it was surprisingly cold and damp. Winter had not quite relinquished its grip. Since then, all that has changed. The flowers are blooming and the vineyards are waking up. The sky is looking bluer and the fields greener. Suddenly it’s springtime in France.

vineyards everywhere

isabel's garden2

Each time I’ve visited this country – I’ve fallen a little more deeply for the place.

Continue reading “in France and smitten”

french lessons: we think your horses are covered in merde

Voilà – la tarte au citron
Here in the South of France, recalling my school girl French, I’ve been remembering my high school French teacher, Mlle. P. We loved her. She was blond, beautiful, fun, and a fabulous teacher. She was also really old. Easily twenty-five. Possibly thirty!! Continue reading “french lessons: we think your horses are covered in merde”

a kale, sausage, and feta frittata

I’m off to the south of France where I’m going to spend a couple of weeks locked up in an old barn. Writing.

On the eve of my departure – with approximately eleven-hundred-and-seventy-nine thousand things to do before I go – including such details as beginning and finishing packing, finding my travel documents, printing out my boarding passes, finding my train tickets to Montreal, charging all my electronics, paying bills, making food for the ones I am leaving behind, calling my mum, and making all of the last-minute arrangements – it seems like a perfect  time to write a blog post. Continue reading “a kale, sausage, and feta frittata”

the “Inscrutable Brilliance” of Anne Carson and a little pasta Puttanesca

“Who is the subject of most poems? Not the beloved. It is that hole.”

 ~ From Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson

Continue reading “the “Inscrutable Brilliance” of Anne Carson and a little pasta Puttanesca”

favourite. biscuits. ever.

Lately I’ve been travelling down memory lane. In a recent post, I was remembering my father and my Irish Uncle George.  This time around it’s my mother-in-law. She was a saint. A beautiful, intelligent, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, red-headed, spirited farm wife who raised a large family with very little money but a surprising amount of love and kindness and patience.

She was also one of the very best cooks I’ve ever known (except for her soup – which we called dish-water soup behind her back).   Continue reading “favourite. biscuits. ever.”

baked Baileys cheesecake with a salted caramel Irish whiskey sauce

I’ve approached the salted chocolate, salted caramel, salted-everything craze with a little skepticism.

It’s not that I’m concerned about salt. In fact, quite the opposite. There’s an excellent article in the NY Times about the flimsy evidence against salt. I think salt is a pretty critical ingredient and am not adverse to placing the salt on top of something, where once upon a time – it would just have gone into the ingredients without attention being drawn to it.

This baked Baileys cheesecake has me convinced. It’s a practically perfect cheesecake – not overly sweet, dense and creamy, and the combination of flavours is beautiful.

I normally like fruity desserts but with St. Patrick’s Day looming, I thought an Irish-type cake might be in order. You can make your own inexpensive Irish cream – see the recipe by clicking here. The salted caramel Irish Whiskey sauce can be made with whatever whiskey you have on hand – and if you don’t want to use whiskey – you could just use a glug of pure vanilla essence.

Sláinte!

Baked Baileys Cheesecake (recipe adapted from an old Harrowsmith Cookbook)

3 – 250 gram packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup Baileys Irish Cream (see recipe for homemade Irish Cream here) or for an alcohol-free version – substitute 1/2 cup of creamy coffee

Crust Ingredients:
200 grams digestive biscuits (I used about 20 Peak Frean’s LifeStyle Bran Crunch biscuits)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 300°F and place oven rack in the centre of the oven.

To make the crust – pulse the biscuits in the food processor to large crumbs. Combine crumbs and melted butter and press evenly onto the bottom of a lightly greased 8″ spring-form pan.
Place the softened cream cheese in a large bowl and beat on medium speed until there are no lumps. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing very briefly each time (do not over mix). Stir in the Baileys Irish Cream and vanilla.
Pour into the prepared pan and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 60 minutes or until the top looks MOSTLY set. Try to resist opening the door until the 60 minutes is up. Turn the oven OFF and leave the cake in the oven for at least another hour or several until the oven has fully cooled.

Once the oven has cooled, remove the cake, run a butter knife or spatula-style-knife around the edge of the cheesecake and chill the cake in the pan for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Once the cake is well-chilled, spread with Baileys whipped cream and serve the caramel Irish Whiskey sauce on top and/or on the side.

To make the Baileys Whipped Cream – whip 250ml of whipping cream to firm peaks, then add 1-2 tbsp of Baileys Irish Cream and 1 tbsp icing sugar and whip briefly to combine.

To make the Salted Caramel Irish Whiskey Sauce

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup light cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tbsp Irish Whiskey (or whatever whiskey you have on hand)
  • sea salt or coarsely grained salt to finish

Mix the brown sugar, cream, and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while stirring gently until the mixture thickens – this will probably take about 5 minutes. Keep the heat low or the mixture will go grainy. Remove from heat and stir in the whiskey. When the sauce cools enough not to melt the whipping cream on the cake – drizzle over cake and finish with a light sprinkle of sea salt or other coarsely grained salt. 

Baked Baileys Cheesecake

 

I’m just mad about saffron. And a Tortilla Espanola

Tortilla Espanola
Seriously, I am quite annoyed about saffron.

I thought I’d embark on a Spanish cooking extravaganza commencing with traditional paella. I needed a few ingredients so I stopped on my home from work at a sweet little gourmet food shop. The only saffron they had was in a little tiny vial. $11.95 for 0.4 grams. Less than half a gram. That’s less than half the weight of a regular paper clip. Handpicked in La Mancha Spain it may be, but honestly, that price seems out of this world. Continue reading “I’m just mad about saffron. And a Tortilla Espanola”

a little guilt and a lot of cranberry almond & rosemary crisps

Lately I’ve been making these wonderful cranberry, almond, and rosemary crisps.

I feel guilty because they are a clone of Lesley Stowe’s fabulous Raincoast Crisps. So it really is with the gravest of apologies to Lesley Stowe that I’m posting this recipe for a dairy-free (vegan) version of her famous crisps.

I happened across a recipe online ages ago at the bountyhunter.ca and saved it. Subsequently, the website seems to be down. I took the original recipe from this site and adjusted it to make it dairy-free.

The crisps are perfect served with Citrus, Fig and Olive Tapenade. If you’re not dairy-free – you could also try them with a soft cheese such as chèvre or melted brie or a herbed cream cheese like Boursin. Really any good cheese will work and perhaps add some red pepper jelly. They pair well with savoury and make a great appetizer – perfect with cocktails before dinner. You can make them in advance and store them in a tin – where they will stay fresh for a couple of weeks.

Cranberry Almond and Rosemary Crisps

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice plus almond milk to make 2 cups in total
1/4 cup turbinado (or brown) sugar
1/4 cup liquid honey
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup natural, sliced almonds
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F

Mix together the flours, baking soda and salt. Add the lemon juice & almond milk mixture (if you’re not dairy-free go ahead and use regular milk in place of almond), turbinado sugar and honey. Stir gently. Add dried cranberries, almonds, sunflower seeds, flax and rosemary – and stir again, gently – you don’t need to over mix.

Lightly grease 4 mini loaf pans (or two large pans if you don’t have the mini ones). Divide the batter between the pans evenly. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until just browning and springy to touch. Remove from oven and let cool thoroughly, preferably overnight.

When the bread is completely cooled, slice as thinly as possible with a sharp knife. Lay the slices on parchment on baking sheets. Bake at 300°F for about 15 minutes, before flipping the slices over and returning to the oven for another 10 minutes. They should be golden brown and crispy.

When cool – store in an airtight tin. Make approx 6-7 dozen.

raincoast crisps (2)

Thai Red Lentil Soup

thai red lentil soup

When I stepped out into the dark night to walk my dog on the first evening of this New Year – there was a magnificent Barred owl sitting in the linden tree in my front yard. I stood on the front steps, stock-still, watching. My daughter, several paces ahead of me, turned to see why I wasn’t coming. I motioned silently towards the tree. She froze too. So there we stood – the three of us including the dog – transfixed by an owl.

A moment later, the owl took flight. It swooped down towards the road beyond us – coming surprisingly close to the pavement before it lifted back up and flew off with just the faintest whoosh of its almost silent wing beat, into the inky black sky. If my daughter hadn’t been with me, I might have thought I’d dreamt the whole thing. If I’d stepped out the door one minute later, I might have missed it. Owl spotting is a lucky kind of business.

It seemed like an omen – an auspicious start to the New Year. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

An owl has appeared at every critical juncture in my life. When I moved to Melbourne, Australia – a tiny Southern Boobook owl came and sat on the overhead wires along the abandoned railway-line-turned-recreation-path, directly across from my home. It stayed for weeks, softly hooting well into the night. When I moved to Brisbane, a family of Tawny Frogmouth owls inhabited a tree along my walking route. They were there for months. Not long after they flew away one-by-one, I flew away too. When I moved to my neighbourhood in Kingston, I wasn’t surprised when Barred owls started making regular appearances. And this past autumn, when I visited Killarney Provincial Park after a 34 year absence – an owl came and serenaded me all night long – hooting until the dawn chorus started up and the day began.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I am completely smitten with owls and a night owl myself. This year I’ve been watching the dark, winter night skies, thinking about how I’ve finally learned to love winter. Perhaps it’s the incurable romantic in me, but I love to see snow falling and waking up to a fresh, clean, white world. And I like the long evenings by the fire, snugged up reading, or catching up on all the films I’ve missed.

I like the seasonal change in cooking too. This year I’ve been making lots of hearty soups. This Thai Red Lentil Soup is one of my new favourites. It’s thick and hearty, easy to make, inexpensive, vegan, and extremely tasty. Make sure you use red lentils – I’ve tried it with other kinds and it doesn’t work as well. Red lentils cook down to a much softer consistency because they have the husk removed.

From a nutritional point of view – lentils are high in protein, fibre, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. Health magazine named lentils as one of the five healthiest foods on the planet. Combined with a grain – lentils form a complete protein – so serve your soup with a good multigrain bread.

One last remarkable lentil fact – Canada is one of the largest primary producers of lentils and the largest export producer of lentils in the world. Buying Canadian lentils helps Canadian farmers!

Thai Red Lentil Soup
1 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1- 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
5 cups vegetarian stock
2 1/4 cups red lentils, well rinsed
1 400 ml can coconut milk
Thai sweet chilli sauce for garnish
One bunch of fresh cilantro for garnish, washed, stems removed and chopped (optional)

In a saucepan, sauté the onion in olive oil until the onion is soft. Add curry paste and stir well. Add the lentils and stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Stir in the coconut milk. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of Thai sweet chilli sauce (don’t skip this step – it enhances the taste so much) and chopped cilantro if desired.

 

jam-jams – good for the soul

jam-jams 1Several people have asked me for more savoury posts – more main courses – and more vegan dishes. I even promised a dear friend that I’d post an entire vegan dinner party menu.

So there’s absolutely no excuse for what I am about to post.  Except that, I had leftover sugar cookie dough and leftover icing from my Valentine’s Day post – “the Grinch that stole Valentine’s Day.” Continue reading “jam-jams – good for the soul”