Sunday, October 16, 2016

salted butter crackers

Well, it turns out that starting your own business can leave one a little frazzled and forgetful.

I could tell you all about leaving the locker key on the bench in the change room at the swimming pool instead of pinning it to my bathing suit  but that isn't really food related.

Instead, let's talk about these crackers.

Last weekend, I was supposed to bring a second dessert to our friends William and Nancy for Thanksgiving dinner. It needed to be gluten-free and nut-free, so we settled on salted butter break-ups. They're a crowd pleaser and I've written about them before: basically, a giant butter cookie that everyone can break up at the table.

I got down to work early Sunday afternoon, mixing and rolling the dough onto the pan. I noticed that the dough didn't look quite right and wasn't as big as usual ... but assumed everything would right itself in the oven.


The giant "cookie" came out thin and impoverished looking. Basically, like something that would feed four people instead of 15.

I pulled Scott into the kitchen for a consult. He stumbled in from a nap and looked at it bleary-eyed. Unfortunately, he agreed with my assessment. We set to work on another dessert: sour cherry crumble, this time.

While we were baking our second dessert, I thought we might as well break into the sad cookie and try it ourselves.

It broke with a happy snap and we cautiously tasted a piece. That was when it dawned on me.

I had forgotten the sugar.

No wonder it was smaller and thinner and paler.

It was not a cookie. It was a cracker.

And you know what? It was a really good cracker: buttery and salty and just crying out for cheese.

I threw a few in a bowl and we brought them along to the dinner. After dessert, they became the cheese course. Indeed, with grapes and bellavitano cheese, they were heavenly.

I guess being frazzled and forgetful isn't so bad after all.

one year ago: squash pasta with onions caramelized in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar
two years ago: fresh plum kuchen
three years ago: leek gratin


salted butter crackers
via myself and the little red kitchen 

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
     or gluten-free:
     127 g. (4.5 oz) tapioca starch
     42 g. (1.5 oz) sweet rice flour
     42 g. (1.5 oz) sorghum flour
3/4  1 tsp. sel gris or kosher salt or sea salt
9 tbsp. (127 g./4.5 oz) cold butter, cut into 18 pieces
 5 tbsp. cold water
1 egg yolk, for the glaze

Pour the flour(s) and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Drop the butter in and pulse until it looks like coarse meal with pea-sized and smaller pieces. While the machine is running, slowly add some of the cold water. Only add enough water to make a dough that almost forms a bowl. It will be very malleable.

Move the dough onto a big clean cutting board and form it into a square. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

When it's time to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure your rack is centred. Line your baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Roll the dough out between sheets of plastic wrap until it becomes a rough rectangle that's about 1/4-inch thick and about 5 by 11 inches. Peel it onto your prepared baking sheet.

Whisk the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water, and use a pastry brush to brush the dough with the egg glaze.

Bake 30  40 minutes, or until golden. It should be firm to touch, but with a little spring when you press its centre. Dorie says the perfect break-up is crisp on the outside and still tender on the inside. When it's not too fragile, transfer it to a rack and let it cool to room temperature. Break into cracker pieces   or let your guests break it up  and serve with cheese.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Eating Out from Amsterdam to Vienna

Favourite restaurants in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria

Last summer, we went to the Netherlands, Germany and Austria for the month of August. We cycled, we swam in lakes and the Blue Danube! we hiked, and we walked around the big cities, poking into urban nooks and crannies.

And we ate. So well.


Crusty buns with chewy centres
Perfectly-balanced lunch salads
Crisp croquettes with hearts of melting cheese or tender meat
Chilled cucumber soup with tomato "caviar"
Fresh apricot juice in the afternoon
Creamy German cheesecake with mandarin
Warm plum cake with melting whipped cream
Hot plum dumplings in buttered-breadcrumbs  

Speaking of dumplings and you must speak of dumplings if you speak of Austria have you heard of kasnocken?

It's pure Alpine comfort food: little dumplings swimming in a sharp cheesy sauce that's baked in an oven skillet with slivers of deep-fried onions on top. I could go back to Bärenwirt in Salzburg just to eat their kasnocken and sip my glass of Grüner Veltliner while I sit out on the patio and watch the green Salzach River flow by.

We ate so many good meals that I thought it was high time I share my favourite restaurants with you.

From the little Wink we happened to see down a side street in Amsterdam which turned out to be one of the most exquisite meals of our lives to the photocopied menu at the cozy Gasthaus Jell high above the Danube River to a flight of nine Alpine cheeses at the very modern Meierei in Vienna's city park ...

I've just added my favourite restaurants in Amsterdam, Osnabrück, Cologne, Salzburg, the Wachau and Vienna in the European edition of Hop & Go Fetch It.

And to finish this post, I leave you with two very different dining experiences: sitting in the elegant terrace garden at Loibnerhof in the Wachau wine region and finding amazing dim sum at Mama Lui & Sons in the heart of Vienna.

one year ago: chicken coconut curry soup
two years ago: oatmeal chocolate cherry cookies and vietnamese noodle and chicken salad
three years ago: silken chocolate mousse and super fudge

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

walnut pesto

Sadly, my friend Isabelle recently moved to Toronto.

Happily, she gave me a big bag of walnuts before she left. (Not to mention other pantry treasures: pomegranate molasses! a big vat of olive oil! glass noodles!)

I had never had such a big bag of walnuts before. I knew they wouldn't last forever, so I set about finding ways to use them.

First, I whirled them up with extra asparagus and parmesan. I slathered the sauce over pizza dough with feta cheese and pickled red onions. After that, I roasted a quarter of the bag and took them to work every day as a snack. Next, I added them to my granola recipe.

But then. Then I came across a recipe for walnut pesto on Smitten Kitchen. It looked so easy   the perfect thing for the dinner party we were hosting that weekend.

Sure enough, it was incredibly simple to roast them and throw them in the food processor along with parmesan, garlic, thyme and a splash of sherry vinegar. After I pulsed them, I stirred in olive oil and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, tasted for seasoning and spread it on a cracker.

It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Well, not exactly beautiful because it's brown with little flecks of red from the sun-dried tomato. But the taste! A beautiful, beautiful thing. Needless to say, our dinner guests agreed and wolfed them down.

Thank you, Isabelle. I now know that my pantry won't be complete without a big bag of walnuts. And if you come over for dinner any time in the next few years, I think you know what we'll be serving you as a little appetizer.

one year ago: pasta with yogurt, peas and chile and martini rosso
two years ago: penne with smoked trout and asparagus and quick zucchini sauté
three years ago: chewy granola bars and asian slaw

print recipe

walnut pesto
slightly adapted from smitten kitchen

1 c. roasted walnuts*
1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
couple small shakes of dried thyme**
nice salt to taste
small splash sherry vinegar
1/4 to 1/3 c. good olive oil
3 tbsp. sundried tomatoes, chopped finely (oil-packed or re-hydrated dry tomatoes)

Pulse the walnuts, parmesan, garlic, thyme, salt and a small splash of sherry vinegar together in a food processor. You are looking for a coarse grind, not a uniform paste. Scrape it out into a bowl and stir in the smaller amount of olive oil. Add more olive oil if you'd like it to be looser. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes. Taste for seasoning and decide if you need another small splash of sherry vinegar or more salt.

Spread on crackers and eat. Store what you don't use in the fridge for quite a few days.

* To roast the walnuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the walnuts on a cookie tray and roast them for about 10 minutes until they smell good and you can see the nut meat has become golden.  
** Smitten Kitchen's original recipe calls for the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme. I'm sure that would be even better but I don't always have fresh thyme around. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

on good service

Last Sunday morning, at a coffee shop in Calgary, I was struck by how good service can change everything.

We were sitting in the sunshine of the little corner bar at Phil & Sebastian in the Mission, watching the world walk by. I was just finishing my avocado-sourdough toast and sipping my High Mountain tea, while Scott had already polished off his gluten-free breakfast sandwich and coffee.

We'd had a tough Saturday night.

It was our anniversary weekend and I'd found a good rate at a fancy hotel downtown. Now that Scott's a graduate student and I've started my own business, we don't get to stay at fancy hotels very often. We had been looking forward to this for weeks.

Well, we won't be going back to this hotel. After we were forced to change rooms late at night because of the hotel's loud stereo system  and then the hotel tried to charge us $500 for the new smaller room – we just wanted to get out of there.

So, Sunday morning, I thought about how this coffee shop could have been like the fancy hotel: uncaring and trying to get away with charging us the moon to sit there. But it wasn't. The staff were friendly and made exceptional coffee and tea along with a great breakfast at a good price.

When we got up to leave, I went over to the counter to thank the staff for running such a good café. They all smiled and thanked me and I walked back to Scott, happy to have this good experience.

As were were zipping up our jackets, a young man from behind the counter came over to us and asked if he we had to go right away. He wanted us to try a special coffee and it would just take a few minutes to make.

Of course we could stay for a special coffee. We sat back down on our cozy stools and looked out the window again.

Soon, he was back with two little cups of Pacamara coffee from Panama. He explained how it was a naturally-processed coffee, which means the farmers let the beans dry with the fruit still on them. He said it's a hard process to control, but when it works it can lead to coffee like this: coffee that is fruity and sweet.

We thanked him and tried our little cups of coffee. It was the most unusual coffee: it was juicy and almost tasted like fruit punch  but was definitely still coffee.

They were perfect little cups of coffee, and we couldn't help but smile at our good fortune.

one year ago: cheddar oatcakes
two years ago: lentil soup with chorizo croutes
three years ago: aspargus and cheese sauce on toast

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

hyperbraised fennel

I found this recipe in my desert-island cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser.

The book has no photos, but it does have headnotes.

Amanda Hesser is a master at writing headnotes  she'll hook me in with just a single sentence or a couple of short paragraphs.

Her headnote for this hyperbraised fennel is glorious. Here's an excerpt:

You cut the bulb into wedges; douse it with olive oil; season it with fennel fronds, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes; and then blast it with heat until the liquid is cooked off and the fennel is just tender. The texture of the bulb ends up, somewhat miraculously, like confit  it holds together but is like a concentrated fennel pudding inside.

So you see, I had to try it. It's now a rockstar regular in our house.

Back to headnote hunting . . .

one year ago: lemon chicken soup with spaghetti
two years ago: spicy salmon broth
three years ago: stinging nettle soup

print here

hyperbraised fennel
via R. W. Apple Jr. adapted from Alice Waters in The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
serves 4 to 6

4 large fennel bulbs including feathery fronds*
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. water
2 tbsp. fennel seeds, finely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes**
1 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp. table salt)
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Cut the stalks off your fennel bulbs. Finely chop the fronds and set them aside. Cut each fennel bulb into eighths.

Place the fennel pieces into a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the olive oil and water. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to high. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to medium. Stir, cover and let cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the fennel fronds, ground fennel seeds, red pepper flakes and salt. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Cover and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated and the fennel is very tender, about 10 minutes. (If you still have too much liquid, you can simmer it uncovered for a few minutes.)

Take the pot off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Serve.

*If your fennel comes frondless, you may substitute 1/4 c. chervil leaves or leave them out.
**I like to use my handy Korean red pepper flakes here. They don't give any heat.

Monday, April 4, 2016

sriracha tofu and broccolini with coconut rice

For some reason, I forgot to make this for a year or two.

I'm not sure why, because once I discovered it again  a few months ago  I quickly remembered that it's one of my favourite weeknight dinners.

In fact, it's the kind of quick weeknight dinner that is so good and so interesting that we really should make it for guests on a weekend. I'd better get on that.

Anyway, I should probably tell you more about it.

First, do you like coconut rice? I love coconut rice. It has that extra bit of richness from the coconut milk and the saltiness is just right here to balance it.

But the best part is how exciting the tofu is. I know you might not believe me when I describe tofu as exciting, but it's true. You'll have to make it to find out. The tofu is tossed with a simple mixture of sriracha and salt but somehow it becomes a new tasty thing with just a bit of chew.

The original recipe called for shrimp but since I can never find affordable ethical shrimp at the grocery store, I put in the tofu. Cheap, and possibly even better. (I've never tried the shrimp.)

Oh, and the broccolini. Or broccolette. Or finely-chopped and peeled regular broccoli. Whatever you call it, it picks up the sriracha and coconut milk and becomes the perfect crunchy bite next to the soft tofu.

Please, just make it. And don't forget about it.

One year ago: peanut sesame noodles
Two years ago: salted butter break-up cookies
Three years ago: chocolate peanut butter mice with licorice tails

print here

sriracha tofu and broccolini with coconut rice
adapted from gourmet
serves 4

1 1/2 c. long-grain white rice*
1 1/2 c. water
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. + 1/2 c. coconut milk, well-stirred
3/4 tsp. + 3/4 tsp. salt
1 lb (454 g.) broccolini or broccolette**
1 block firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 1/2 tbsp. sriracha sauce
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. + 1/4 c. chicken broth
1 tbsp. vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil

Rinse the rice under cold water and drain well. Pour into a medium-sized sauce pan with a heavy bottom. Add 1 1/2 cups water, sugar, 1 cup coconut milk and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, then take it off the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes, still covered.

While the rice is cooking, peel the broccolini stalks and cut the whole thing into 1-inch lengths. Set aside.

In another bowl, toss the tofu with the with the sriracha and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, stir the cornstarch, 1/4 cup chicken broth,  and 1/2 cup coconut milk until the cornstarch dissolves.

Heat a big heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven over high heat. Add oil. Add broccolini and fry until it turns bright-green. Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth. Once the liquid has evaporated (about 3 minutes), add the dressed tofu. Stir often and cook for 2 minutes. Stir the cornstarch mixture again and add it to the broccolini and tofu. Stir until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Fluff the rice and serve it with the broccolini mixture. Eat!

* We like Jasmine or Basmati rice 
** You could also use regular broccoli, stalks peeled and cut more finely

Sunday, March 27, 2016

roasted rhubarb with wine and vanilla

In Edmonton this weekend, our rhubarb out in the garden hasn't unfurled itself yet. Although at least it's not covered by snow.

In Courtenay last weekend, my dad's rhubarb out in the garden was growing pink, squat stalks. It was definitely not covered by snow.

So, of course, Dad sent us home with a bag of them  not to mention the kale and fresh herbs that were tucked around it.

(In case you were wondering, I've gone through airport security twice now with bags of rhubarb and kale. Security staff don't bat an eye. Maybe they're common plants to fly off the Island?)

The next day at home in snowy Edmonton, I decided to try roasting the rhubarb. I followed Orangette's simple recipe with wine and vanilla, and soon had perfectly tender rhubarb that held its shape beautifully – if you were careful spooning it out.

I added a little yogourt and some of the bright-pink syrup pooled in the bottom of the baking dish, and had a lovely birthday snack. The wine and vanilla are just haunting flavours, not overpowering, which means the roasted rhubarb is also good with breakfast.

Now that I've used all of my Courtenay supply, I'm anxiously watching mine in the garden here. When it does unfurl and shoot up, I'll be ready.

one year ago: orange jelly with chantilly cream
two years ago: brigadeiros
three years ago: spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon

print here

roasted rhubarb with wine and vanilla
slightly adapted from orangette, who was inspired by canal house cooking

1 lb. (454 g.) rhubarb, cut into lengths about 2  3 inches long
1/4 c. white or red wine
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Get out a heavy baking dish with high sides, such as a Dutch oven or Corningware casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb with the wine, sugar and vanilla. Line the rhubarb up like soldiers in the baking dish and put in the oven.

After 15 minutes, carefully stir the rhubarb so it all gets cooked.

After 15 more minutes, check on the rhubarb. It should look intact but actually be tender and ready to eat. Serve with a bit of the syrup that's pooled in the bottom of the dish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

gluten-free sandwich bread

Hot out of the oven

This one's for the Celiacs who have resigned themselves to paying seven dollars for a very small loaf of almost-edible bread at the grocery store. This is better.

I have made this recipe five times now. Aside from the time when I forgot the xanthan gum  which is key  they have all turned into the most amazing loaves of gluten-free bread.

Happily rising

The Celiac husband has declared it his favourite and keeps asking when I'm making more.


My cousin Shannon, also a Celiac, had a slice for breakfast and right away asked me where I bought it. I took that as a real compliment because gluten-free bakers know how hard it is to make a really good gluten-free bread at home.

Scott also reports that this makes a fine sandwich bread in his lunch. This may not be news to the rest of the world, but the Celiacs know very few gluten-free breads are edible unless they're toasted.

Sliced and ready for living the good life in the freezer

A big thanks to the always-reliable Canadian Living for the original recipe. I tinkered with the flours to add millet and oat flour in place of some of the brown rice flour  I think this gives it a nicer texture and stays away from the sandiness of too much brown rice flour. I also like slipping more whole grains in wherever I can.

Celiacs, enjoy!

print here

gluten-free sandwich bread
adapted from canadian living
bakes 2 loaves

250 g. (2 c.) tapioca starch
125 g. (1 c.) brown rice flour
63 g. (1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. + 2 tsp.) gluten-free oat flour*
63 g. (1/2 c. + 1 tbsp.) millet flour
270 g. (1 1/2 c.) potato starch
38 g. (6 tbsp.) ground flax meal
4 tsp. quick-rising (instant) dry yeast
4 tsp. xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp. salt
672 g. (2 2/3 c.) milk, warmed
4 eggs (224 g.)
37 g. (2 tbsp.) liquid honey
16 g. (4 tsp.) olive oil
2 tsp. cider vinegar

Grease two non-stick loaf pans with a neutral-tasting oil. Set aside.

Get out a large bowl. Whisk together the tapioca starch, brown rice flour, oat flour, millet flour, potato starch, ground flax meal, yeast, xanthan gum and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, honey, olive oil and cider vinegar. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the waiting loaf pans and smooth the tops a bit. Let rise in a draft-free place for about an hour, until the tops have risen just above the loaf pans. I like to put the pans in the microwave with a mug of just-boiled water to steam it up. If you leave them on the counter, make sure you cover them with lightly-greased plastic wrap so they aren't susceptible to drafts.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius) and bake for about one hour. When they're done, the tops will be golden brown and a cake tester will come out clean. If you have a thermometer, the inside of the bread will measure 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Let cool a bit, then transfer to racks to fully cool. Slice and eat. If you will be keeping it longer than 24 hours, slice, double-bag and freeze. Toast slices as you need them.

* I just whirl my gluten-free oats in the food processor until they're fairly fine and use that as oat flour.