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Entries in snack (26)


Getting to know you

Seven years ago Sean gave me one of my most treasured possessions. It was my birthday, and he had found a copy of the out-of-print, rather unknown, favourite book of my childhood.

Whereas my original copy had long ago lost whole sections out of overuse, this new copy was pristine perfection; the story intact and whole again.

Flipping through the pages, my enthusiasm for a tale of little mice and their adventures to a faraway land came rushing back. With the glee of a six-year-old, I pointed out the illustrations that had inspired me the most, explained to him the nuances of each character and hugged the book like the long-lost friend it was.

What made this gift all the more special, was that Sean and I had not known each other in childhood. It was only through my mentioning the book that he realized the importance to me. Having it now was a window to that youth, an opportunity for him to know the girl I had been.

Lucky for me, we have many ‘relics’ of Sean’s early years - our son Benjamin now plays with some of the same toys and is even measured on the same growth chart against which his father stood tall. But beyond all these, one of the most meaningful of legacies are the recipes I have been given by his family.

Whether it be the cheesy pasta salad that appears at every family gathering, or the apple cake that heralds fall, or Grandma's famous (and decadent) butter tarts, each of these recipes is inextricably tied to memories from the family I now call my own. Though unshared by me, I feel a part of those reminisces with each bite, and hopefully in the future, with each time I serve them.

Munching on a bakery-bought cookie a few days ago, I came to think of the recipe for Oatmeal Date Cookies from my dear Mother-in-Law. Passed down from her mother, it was the recipe noted with the scribble “Sean’s favourite” in the margins of their church’s fundraising cookbook.

Chewy, fat and unapologetically old-fashioned, these are the stuff of cookie-jar glory. I have dressed them up a bit with shards of almond butter toffee and chocolate chips; but that was just my mood that day. These are the perfect canvas for whatever strikes your fancy - white chocolate and dried cherries, perhaps? It doesn't matter the specific flavours of your childhood, as long as you remember to visit them once in a while.

Almond toffee oatmeal cookies
My own variation, based upon a recipe by my husband's maternal grandmother. They may look like your typical oatmeal cookies, but the salted toffee adds and unexpected depth of buttery flavour. I prefer some of the toffee pieces on the smaller side, so they melt into the batter when baking.


For the almond butter toffee
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup flaked almonds

For the cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup, golden syrup, honey or maple syrup
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 batch almond butter toffee, crushed into bits

To make the almond butter toffee

Grease a half sheet pan (13"x18") or cookie sheet.

Combine all ingredients, except the almonds, in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, stir until the butter is melted. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer reaches 300ºF (150ºC). This will take about 25-30 minutes. If you do not have a candy thermometer, carefully drip a small amount of the sugar mixture into a cup of cold water; if it has reached the right temperature it will collect into a hard ball.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, spread the almonds in a single layer. Toss the nuts occasionally to prevent scorching. Once they are light toasted brown and aromatic, remove from pan and set aside.

Mix nuts into butter toffee mixture. Working quickly, spread the toffee over the prepared half sheet pan in a thin layer. It will not fill the entire pan. Set aside to cool completely.

When cooled, break the toffee into irregular bits. I find it easiest to put pieces into a large, loosely sealed food storage bag and pounding the toffee into submission with the bottom of a skillet. You should end up with about 3/4 cup of nubby gravel.

For the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, beating well. Mix in vanilla.

With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the oatmeal, chocolate chips and crushed toffee.

Drop 2 tablespoons of dough into mounds (I use a disher that is 1 1/2” across) onto parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets. Space mounds about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly golden around the edges, but not crisp, about 10-12 minutes.

Cool on sheets for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen.

• If anyone would like Sean’s Grandmother’s original recipe for Oatmeal Date Cookies, please leave a comment to that effect; I would be happy to oblige.
• Due to the buttery toffee, these cookies will melt and spread while baking. If you would like to reshape them, take a wide glass or bowl and swirl the slightly cooled (maybe after 10-15 seconds out of the oven) cookies in a circle. The edges will collect together neatly, as pictured.


There are no small parts, just small ingredients

While it is lovely when expectations are met, the greatest performances are sometimes those that are stumbled upon and steal the show entirely.

To more succinct in this particular case, stumbled upon means came home in our grocery bag.

I had intended to make something to satiate a craving for smoked salmon. I had decided upon a sandwich. I had thought I would thinly slice some red onion, sprinkle over some capers and be done with it.

But then the tomatoes arrived; Sean had gone to the store for provisions, and came back with some of the most gorgeous little beauties from the market. Golden yellow, sunset orange and robustly red, the pint of mixed varietals demanded the spotlight.

Their delicate scent courted centre-stage status; a paltry sandwich seemed too gauche for their charms. And so, the smoked salmon was relegated to the chorus line, providing the backdrop to a tomato salad-crowned tartine.

Like any good production, this light lunch offers a play of dramatic contrasts. Heavily silken folds of salmon are undercut with the twang of fresh chèvre and astringent lemon. Juicy tomatoes rendezvous with their long-time companion sweet basil, and take a tumble with saline capers and spiky, fiery red onion.

While I refrained from a standing ovation, an encore is surely deserved.

Smoked salmon and tomato salad tartine
Please forgive my lack of truly specific quantities; you can treat the list as if each item includes the modifier "or thereabouts". This is one of those dishes for which personal taste is paramount. Choose the proportions that work with your taste to best balance the salty, sour and sweet elements.


For the tomato salad
1 1/2 cups small tomatoes (cherry, grape, strawberry), cut into halves or quarters
1/3 cup small diced red onion
2-3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Basil, cut into chiffonade
Fresh parsley, minced
Lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sandwich
4 tablespoons cream cheese
4 tablespoons chèvre (unaged, fresh)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 slices country bread, or 2 slices halved if large
4-8 slices smoked salmon, depending on the size
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the tomato salad. Toss gently and season with salt (judiciously) and pepper.

Combine the cream cheese, chèvre and Dijon mustard. Beat until fully-blended and light. Season with pepper.

Lightly toast bread slices under a preheated broiler.

Spread cheese mixture over bread. Top with sliced smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Pile tomato salad over all and enjoy.

Makes 4 pieces.


Reality bites

Aside from some cursory mentions and to answer specific questions, I have rarely felt the desire to write about this site on this site. Maybe it was because it seemed too self-referential, or maybe it is because I enjoyed the romantic notion that my writing was part of a conversation rather than a post on a computer screen; either way I always felt better in ignoring the technicalities of food blogging and website management.

However, due to a technical glitch, I have had to republish certain articles from my archives. My day has been spent resurrecting old posts, my eyes now sore from scanning old files and rearranging templates.

Since I enjoy the illusion that hides the work that goes into the site and my writing, I must admit I do believe that many of us subscribe to a similar fantasy in regards to the lifestyles behind food blogs. While I can only speak for myself definitively, I am sure that there are others who would admit that not every dish that graces our table is camera-ready, or that every meal eaten out is from a starred restaurant.

How very fitting it is then, that while rooting around for some files to reconstruct the archive I came across this picture for a Mixed Berry Ricotta Fool. A dish made up completely of odds and ends from other dishes featured here, it is a good dose of honesty - I mean, how often does one mention, let alone write about, the humdrum reality of leftovers?

Not every meal I cook is meant for publication; most days (especially in these last few months) I have not been able to enjoy the luxury of planning multi-course meals or experimenting as much as I used to. More often than not the focus of my cooking is to resolve the grumbling of stomachs and the solution lies in whatever is in the fridge. Far from glamorous I know, but closer to the demands of the everyday.

I will admit though, as much as I can recognize this actuality, I have little desire to write or dwell upon it. As shallow as it seems, I would like to continue my daydream that every author behind every site I read is living an utterly fashionable life, that every city is exciting every day, that almost every meal is a success, that any failures are dealt with aplomb and are simply fodder for a rapier wit.

But please do not draw back the curtain on the dirty dishes and take-out meals and the midnight snacks of saltines and peanut butter. While I do believe a good measure of self-awareness and accepting oneself, leftovers and all, let's not go overboard.

My apologies to subscribers of this site for old posts appearing on the site feed. I hope you don't mind the trip down memory lane.

Mixed berry ricotta fool
My own creation. Luscious, yet light, this recipe delivers a perfect balance of flavours and texture.

Blame it on lack of sleep (an infant will do that to you), but while I have the photo, I have no recollection of where I put the exact recipe. The following are estimations.

1/3 cup of mixed berries
3 tablespoons ricotta
Honey, I believe I used about 1/2 teaspoon, but go with your taste depending on the tartness of the fruit
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
A few grates of lemon zest (optional)

Crush the berries with the back of a fork or in a mortar and pestle to form a coarse purée.

In another bowl, combine ricotta, honey, vanilla and nutmeg (if using). Fold the berry mixture through the ricotta, until marbled well but not completely blended. Check for sweetness and adjust honey if needed.

Spoon on slices of baguette, scones or to top waffles and pancakes.

Serves 1.

• Omit the lemon zest and use a few grates of nutmeg for a background note of spice.
• Alternatively this fool can be mounded on split strawberries for a quick snack, multiplied to fill prebaked tart shells, in a napoleon of puff pastry, or between layers of sponge cake. It also makes a simple summer dessert when served in a cup with shortbread or sugar cookies alongside.


Speaking of ...

Sometimes I just get on a kick; I will become obsessed with an ingredient or dish, and eat nothing but variations on a theme. Last year at this time I was all about asparagus. This year, it seems my seasonal love affair is with peas. Since we’re already on the subject, I thought I would present another new favorite recipe for these little darlings.

Pea and ricotta crostini
Fresh with the brightness of lemon and rich with the supple texture of ricotta, these crostini are great as an hors d'oeuvre or starter. Alternatively, serve them as a garnish with a spring minestrone or other broth-based soup.

1 cup petit pois/peas (defrosted if frozen)
3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
Lemon zest (see note)
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

To serve
Toasted slices of baguette
Parmesan shavings or shards

In a small pot of boiling salted water, blanch the peas. Cook until tender, approximately 1 to 2 minutes (depending on their size). Once cooked, remove peas to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and set their colour.

In a mortar and pestle, or a small food processor, mash the peas to form a coarse paste. Stir in the ricotta and lemon zest and enough olive oil to reach the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve, mound purée onto slices of freshly toasted baguette and garnish with parmesan cheese.
Makes about 1/2 cup of purée.

• I use just a few grates of lemon zest - about 1/8 of a teaspoon or so. It is really to taste, so trust your own judgement. Alternatively you can use a squeeze of lemon juice instead.
• This purée can also be tossed with cooked pasta for a quick supper. In this case, I would add some chopped parsley, whole watercress or torn arugula and additional cheese, with olive oil to loosen.


Plain January Jane

The grey days of January have settled in, and I’m just about ready to wrap myself up in flannel, hunker down and coast my way through the rest of the month. I’m in no mood for fancy; I want goose down, cuddly sweaters and angora socks.

On that same note, there are foods that fit this mood. Without fanfare, they routinely deliver. Simple and to the point, these wallflowers of the recipe file are perennial favourites, but not always the life of the party.

Such is the case with these muffins. Reasonably healthy and utterly flavourful, they offer up a great sense of accomplishment after only a modest amount of effort. Truly, if you can produce warm baked goods in less than 10 minutes of prep time, do you not feel rather smart? I say, all the more time to spend cozied up with that goose down.

While some plans may prevent me from participating, I encourage everyone to check out Sugar Low Friday, hosted by the ever-fab Sam of Becks & Posh. The one-time event will be held on January 27, 2006, details to be found through the link.

Banana-Cranberry Bran Muffins

1 1/4 cups (300 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour (you can also use whole wheat)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (2.5 ml)
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey or granulated sugar (or up to 1/2 cup if you prefer sweeter and depending on the bananas)
1 egg
1 cup (250 ml) milk
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) flaked bran cereal
1/2 cup (125 ml) dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Lightly grease a 12 cup muffin tin, or line with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together egg, honey or sugar, egg, milk and bananas. Stir in cereal. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just blended. Stir in cranberries. Divide evenly among prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Leave muffins in tin to cool for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely (or serve hot).

Makes 12.

• These muffins do not rise a lot while baking, and so are more like little flat-topped cakes. If you prefer a larger, domed muffin, I would recommend dividing the batter between 6-8 muffins instead. Be sure to space them evenly in the tin and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
• A raisin bran cereal could also be substituted, as could fresh or frozen berries. Frozen berries will colour the batter a bit, due to their juice.
• Depending on your bananas, you may find you need to hold back a bit of the milk. I usually use between 3/4 cup and 1 cup.