because pie is irrational

It’s a thin line, really, between oblivion and being on the fence. Neither allows you to adequately make a decision, and neither engages you enough in the consequences of a potential decision, should you make one.

So here’s a great question: meringue or not meringue?

While traditionally in France the tarte au citron is made with a lightly torched, sublimely delicate and shiny meringue, modern purists are leading a sort of revolution to overthrow the fluff of it all.

I made this tart about a week ago (and it was demolished right about then as well), and to be honest, I had no idea whether or not I wanted to pipe that meringue on. Even after finishing the pie I still had mixed feelings about it – not that its deliciousness was debatable, for it was by a modest margin at the top of my list of lemon-things-consumed – but somewhere in the back of my head was the question: what if I hadn’t put meringue on it?

Today, walking to class, watching the snow melt. Boom. Brain parfumation happened.

Like the snow, the meringue is not there to make everyone fall in love with it (you can tell I’ve had enough with this winter thing). Instead, it’s there to conceal what’s underneath, again, not because it’s anything to hide, but because it will add that much more ooh, aah, and sexiness to the lush underneath. That’s pretty romantic and french, and witty, I think.

Oh, yeah, and how does that have to do with snow? Well, if you haven’t set foot on solid ground that is not compacted snow for 5 months, you’d understand the thrills of finally seeing the black pavement again. Sure, it’s just pavement, but that’s the beauty of snow – not itself, but it makes everything underneath more beautiful when it melts.

He is a voice

shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way

for the LORD’s coming!

Clear the road for him’

Matthew 3:3

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Ingredients for the lazy pate sablee:

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1/4 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup cold butter, cubed

75 ml half-and-half or heavy cream

To make the pate sablee, put the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the the food processor and pulse until blended. Add the chunks of culd butter, and continue pulsing until the mixture becomes a very pale yellow and looks a bit grainy. While pulsing, stream in the cream until the mixture just begins to clump together.

Cover a flat working surface with a film of plastic wrap, then dump the contents of the food processor onto the surface. Gather and press the mixture into a tight mound and flatten into an inch-thick round. Lift up the corners of the plastic wrap to wrap the dough snugly, then chill in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.

Lightly flour your working surface. Unwrap your chilled dough and roll it out using a rolling pin to about 0.75cm thick, or with large enough area to cover a 9-inch fluted tart pan. Slide the removable bottom of the pan underneath the dough (be gentle as the dough is quite delicate), lift it up, then place it into the tart ring. Press the dough  into the corner of the tart pan, and up the sides. Trim off any extra bits and use them to fill any areas that are not sufficiently covered. Chill in the freezer for another 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and feel free to do any cleanup to save time. Once the dough is finished chilling, dock it all over with a fork and bake, uncovered, for 18-20 minutes, or until pale golden. If the bottom’s puffed up, just pat it down gently with the back of a spoon while it’s still hot. Cool completely and chill until needed.

Ingredients for the lemon cream:

1 cup icing sugar

4 medium or 3 large lemons, zest and juice

4 large free range eggs

1/3 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup unsalted butter, placed in a large mixing bowl (preferably glass)

To make the lemon cream, combine the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and eggs in a saucepan. Cook on medium, whisking contents constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Stream in the cream, still whisking, until the mixture is well-tightened.

Pass the lemon curd through a sieve placed over the butter, and stir until the butter is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into the baked tart shell and chill in the fridge overnight to set completely.

Ingredients for the french meringue:

2 egg whites

1/2 cup white sugar

To make the french meringue, place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (you can use your go-to mixing bowl if you have a hand-held) over a pot of barely simmering water. Beat with a whisk by hand until the sugar is fully dissolved, and the contents are quite warm to the touch. Attach the bowl to the stand mixer and whisk on medium-high for 8-10 minutes, or until the meringue is very glossy and quite firm (the tip should stand when you hold up the beater).

Spoon the meringue into a star-tipped piping bag and pipe onto the chilled lemon tart. Torch it to make it pretty, then chill until ready to serve.

Totally redundant, but enjoy!

Why taste her cherry chapstick?

To those of you who are not the 0.0000001% of drop-dead gorgeous women (or men) who override the effects of traffic lights in New York City’s bustling streets, cheers. Cheers because your friends are not jealous of you. Cheers because you have weaknesses that you can boast about. Cheers because even though you don’t stop every car that passes you by, you really only need to stop one person in the midst of their life who knows from first sight how special you are.

Oh, and did I mention you’d also get to eat cheesecake without everyone around you turning heads whispering “I can’t believe she’s eating cheesecake!” No I’m not saying go pig out on cheesecake tomorrow in front of your girl or guy friend. I mean, they’ll still love you for who you are, but mind your health. There’s no point in trying to make yourself feel loved by stuffing yourself.

Have cheesecake if you’re feeling down.

But don’t have too much for that’ll weigh you down.

Plus, you never know – maybe this is actually how somebody sees you, actually, someone does see you like this:

“You are beautiful, my darling,

        beautiful beyond words.

Your eyes are like doves beyond your veil.

Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats

        winding down the slopes of Gilead.

Your teeth are as white as sheep,

        recently shorn and freshly washed.

Your smile is flawless,

        each tooth matched to its twin.

Your lips are like scarlet ribbon;

        your mouth is inviting.

Your cheeks are like rosy pomegranates behind your veil.

Your neck is as beautiful as the tower of David…

You are altogether beautiful, my darling,

beautiful in every way.

~Song of Songs 4:1-7

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Ingredients for the nutty crust (this is such an amazing crust, you must try it!)

1 c oats

1/2 c raw pecan halves (walnuts, almonds, cashews or even roasted mixed salted nuts will do)

2 tbsp cornstarch

1/4 c brown sugar

3/4 tsp fine sea salt (use 1/2 tsp if using salted nuts)

a pinch of cinnamon, optional

3 tbsp coconut oil

To make the nutty crust, put the oats, nuts, cornstarch, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor or blender. Whiz together until the mixture resembles graham cracker crumbs. Add the coconut oil and pulse until the mixture begins to moisten and clump up.

Line the bottom of four 4-inch springform pans or one 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Press the oat and nut mixture evenly, and firmly into the pan with a measuring cup with a flat bottom or your fingertips. Place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Take the crust from the freezer straight into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden and slightly puffed. Use the back of a spoon to gently press down on the crust then let cool completely before chilling until needed.

Ingredients for the cheesecake batter:

1 kg 2% cottage cheese, strained, at room temperature

250 g full fat cream cheese, cut into cubes, at room temperature

3/4 c sugar

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

3 free range eggs, at room temperature

To make the cheesecake, preheat the oven to 325 degree F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven, and another rack below it. Fill a pan with water and put it on the bottom rack – this will create the bain marie without risking a water-soaked crust.

Put the cottage cheese in the blender and whiz until smooth. Add the cream cheese, a cube at a time until the mixture is thick and creamy without any lumps. Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, and sea salt and continue blending until smooth. On low, pulse in the eggs just until evenly incorporated.

Pour the cheese batter into the chilled baked crust and bake in the top rack for 30-40 minutes if using small springform pans or 60-75 minutes if using a large springform pan. The middle should jiggle a little bit when you remove it from the oven, but don’t worry the residual heat is sufficient to cook it through.

Cool it completely before covering and chilling overnight to set.

When ready to serve, simply run a thin-bladed knife around the side of the pan to release the cake.

I actually like to sprinkle a generous layer of sugar on top then torching it to make it a creme brulee cheesecake, just sayin’.

But honestly, you really can’t do much to top a cheesecake, perhaps some cherry compote, but really, I mean, it’s cheesecake.

Enjoy, but don’t pig out.

(At least don’t blame me if you do, I provided fair warning)

Oh frit…

Yes it’s Thanksgiving, yes it’s fall. And as I kiss goodbye to the most exciting of all my summers past I leap, boots-scarf-and-all into my first ever eastern fall. Evergreen territory, where I come from is, well, ever green. But now I can literally see the trees change colour as if consumed by autumn’s flames.

Blame algebra, but I’m seeing parallels and patterns everywhere. So as summer morphs into fall, and verdant foliage bursts into gold embers, juicy summer squash vanish in silence, and bright orange pumpkins and yellow-fleshed butternuts pop up by bins and crates wherever grocery-shopping sweeps me.

Here, I officially say goodbye to summer’s ardor with these little fritters stuffed to the brim with young, green zucchini and green onions.

Happy autumn!

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Ingredients for the zucchini fritters:

4 small zucchini

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp sea salt

2/3 c chopped onions

1/2 c cooked wild or brown rice

1 FR egg

1/2 c finely ground oat flour, or rice flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

few rounds black pepper

To make the fritters, first grate the zucchini – it’s fast if you have a food processor, or you can go with your good ol’ box grater whicg would work just fine. Dump it into a large bowl and sprinkle on the 1 tbsp salt. Start “kneading” the zucchini, this will soften them and also help extract the water, so that the batter will be able to hold all that zucchini together. After 5 minutes of kneading, in a strainer, rinse the zucchini quickly under cold water just to get rid of the saltiness, then press down firmly with your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Use paper towel to blot out any extra moisture sitting on the top.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the zucchini in a mixing bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients until well combined.

In your favourite frying pan, heat 2 tbsp peanut oil (or avocado/grape seed oil) to medium heat, and drop ice-cream-scoopfuls of the batter into the pan. Fry for about 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown, then transfer them to a baking sheet and finish them off in the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with the sweet soy sauce (below), garnished with more chopped scallions or toasted white sesame seeds.

Ingredients for the sweet soy sauce:

3 tbsp thick soy sauce

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

1 tbsp shiitake vinegar (or Chinese black vinegar)

3-4 drops sesame oil

Stir together in a small bowl until the sugar is fully dissolved.

Creme de la Creme

I know I’ve been pretty low-key for what, two months now? And originally, back at the end of school and prelude to July I did plan to do some heavy-duty blogging, cooking, and photographing. The latter twosome I did, somewhat, fulfill. As for the former…well, I do apologize and I do intend to make up for our lost time together by starting with this post.

I’m not saying that this one post is going to bring world peace, not that it can’t, because it shuns dairy completely, but I do intend to bring a smile to your sad little faces (yes some of us will have to kiss vay-cay goodbye for the time-being) with some peaches and cream.

Corn.

As for me, yes, me again, I tend to get to know the roots and culture of any given region through three things. Method number one, most common, most logical, would be to phone up any long-lost relatives who live there, then convince that I didn’t really lose contact with them for four years then hop along with them to their local corners n’ cracks. Method number two, I ditch all my plans and just go for it. I mean, put on a neon t-shirt, running shorts, and lace up my nikes doin’ ’em up tight and just go. I find, after running a route twice, I memorize its map. Try it, it’ll help you stay fit on those road trips.

Lastly, and most intuitive of all, eat. Yes, use your mouth (and your brain just a tad). Eat whatever springs from the land, the earth. Be a foreign locavore, sure it’s a thing (oxymoron).

So you can guess my reaction when I landed myself in the Waterloo airport, and on the way to my new home drove past, I don’t know, corn field bordered by my oh my, more rows of corn.

Exactly, when you have late-summer sweet corn, you do like me: make sweet corn gelato.

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Ingredients for the sweet corn gelato:

3 ears fresh corn kernels

2 3/4 cups unsweetened coconut beverage (not canned, I used Organic “So Delicious”)

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

3 free range egg yolks

1 scant cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin

1/2 cup coconut cream, chilled

1 tbsp malibu liqueur, optional but I recommend with the most intense pressure legal

To make the gelato, put the corn, coconut beverge, and salt in the blender and blend on the highest speed until as smooth as possible. I used a Vitamix so I blended it until it started to steam. If you’re on a regular blender, just pour the mixture into a pan and bring to scalding temperature.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the egg yolks and sugar. (Don’t worry, the sugar is indeed much more than the yolks if you’re concerned it seems too dry.) Temper in the hot corn mixture, whisking constantly until smooth, then return the entire mixture back into the pan. Sprinkle on the gelatin, and cook on medium heat until the gelatin dissolves and the custard thickens slightly (78°C).

Strain the custard into a clean bowl and chill in the refrigerator until cold. Meanwhile, line a square baking pan with foil extending beyond the sides. Pour the cold custard into the prepared pan, reserving about 1/2 cup. Freeze the panful of custard and chill the remaining 1/2 cup.

Unmold the frozen custard and cut into 16 squares. In a food processor or your Vitamix, puree the frozen squares with the reserved chilled custard, coconut cream, and malibu until smooth like soft-serve ice cream. Scrape into a metal loaf pan and freeze until firm.

To serve, simply leave the ice cream at room temperature for 3 to 5 minutes for the best consistency – like haagen dazs…except healthier!

Some Sage Advice

Whether it’s the strokes of color representing specific flavours that streak across my mind when I “see” certain flavour combinations or something as straight forward as smelling the steam wafting lazily up from a finished dish, I think, flavour has to do with instinct and chemistry.

Like people, food has its own invisible forces of abstract attraction and repulsion. The only way one can go along with anyone and everyone and become absolutely essential is to be the salt of the world. Matthew 5:13

As for all the other foods, some clash and cause destruction on a plate, others are somewhat mellow and therefore go forgotten before the next meal. Then, there are still the harmony and excitement in other ensembles of flavours that make magic happen.

Crisp purple sage, kabocha squash gnocchi, brown butter, shaved Grana Padano, and caramelized balsamic vinegar.

I think these struck a chord with me.

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Ingredients for the kabocha squash gnocchi:

2 cups kabocha squash* puree (made from half a steamed squash)

1 1/3 cup potato starch

1 1/3 cup white rice flour

1 1/3 cup glutinous rice flour

3/4 tsp fine sea salt

2 free range eggs

2 tbsp water, as needed

To make the kabocha gnocchi, mix together the kabocha puree, potato starch, rice flours, and salt in the stand mixer using the paddle attachment. The mixture will look sandy and dry. Mix in the eggs, one at a time until well combined. If a dough forms and cleans the sides of the bowl, then you don’t need to add any water. Otherwise, drip in the 2 tablespoons of water as the machine mixes, until a dough forms.

On a smooth, clean working surface (I did this on my countertop), roll handfuls of the dough into inch-thick logs. Cut it into 1/3-inch thick pieces, or bite-sized. Roll it into a flat-ish round between your hands then roll it on the “teeth” of the fork, giving it some pressure, and voila, a perfect little dumpling!

Now, all you need to do is repeat that last step a few dozen times until all the dough is used up. Freeze them in a single layer, on a plate or baking sheet until rigid, then you can dump it all into a freezer bag for convenient storage.

When ready to cook, bring a pot of water to the rolling boil. Add a tablespoon of sea salt and 2 cups of frozen gnocchi. Stir gently with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking at the start. They are ready when they float to the top. Drain.

Ingredients for the sauce:

4 tbsp unsalted butter

36 purple sage leaves (regular sage leaves work just as well)

1 small brown onion, quartered, then thinly sliced

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 generous tbsp balsamic vinegar

lots of freshly ground black pepper

shaved Grana Padano or parmesan cheese

To make the sauce, heat the butter un a pan on medium high heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the sage leaves. Now listen, because at first there will be quite a bit of noise from the water vapour escaping the leaves, but as the leaves dehydrate, there will be less and less evaporation occuring, hence less noise. Once the sputtering dies down, you know the sage is crisp, so remove them with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Then, add the onions and salt. Fry the onions until brown and crispy around the edges and the butter is richly brown – this will take 2~4 minutes, and stir constantly to avoid the milk solids from burning. Now add the balsamic and cook it down until it is sweet and sticky (reduced by a third) before adding the cooked gnocchi. Stir until the gnocchi is evenly coated in the sauce and the sauce is sticking onto the gnocchi.

Serves 2, garnish with the reserved fried sage, black pepper, and shaved cheese.

Still a Wonder

Whenever I think of comfort food, I can never wander far from bread. Just think peanut butter banana sandwiches (actually just any classic sandwich!), grilled cheese, and stuffing…oh, then french toast, croutons on clam chowder, garlic bread – the list goes on. There’s just something relieving about sinking one’s teeth (maybe first past a toasted golden crust) into the pillowy soft, moist bread.

Actually, just making the bread is happy enough of a travail for me. I suppose watching the doughboy double then triple in size is like watching a child grow. I mean, afterall, are there nof millions of tiny little yeast children growing up, reproducing and populating the entire world of their existence?

So I guess making bread reminds me a little bit of raising children, which makes me feel rather accomplished, like I’ve made a difference of some sort; like adding a bit of comfort to the home on a gloomy wet day like this.

“Acorns were good until bread was found. “

-Francis Bacon

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Ingredients for my favourite sandwich bread:

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 cups warm water

2 tbsp active dry yeast

2 cups whole wheat flour

3~4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup skim milk powder

2 tsp fine sea salt

1/3 cup canola or grape seed oil

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp milk

To make the bread, combine the brown sugar with the warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Sprinkle on the yeast and let it stand for 5 minutes, or until it foams and puffs up.

Add the whole wheat flour, 3 cups of the all purpose flour, milk powder, and salt to the yeast mixture. Using the dough hook, knead the dough on low speed (2~4) until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Gradually knead in the oil. Add the remaining flour, 1/3 cup at a time, until the dough starts to clean the sides of the bowl – you may not need to use all of the flour. When I made mine, I only needed 3 2/3 cups of the all purpose, but the key is to gradually add so you get to the point where you’ve added just enough flour, otherwise your dough may get too dry.

Grease a bucket with a lid – a 4 litre ice cream bucket is perfect – with a tablespoon of oil. Dump the kneaded dough into the bucket and cover with the lid. Put the bucket in a warm, dark place and let it rise for an hour. Once it’s at least doubled in size, punch it down and fold the edges into the center. Put the lid back on and let it rise again for another hour.

Turn the soft, elastic dough onto a smooth clean working surface and divide into two equal portions. Using a rolling pin, roll each half into a rectangle, about 9 x 14 inches. Starting at the short end, roll up the dough snugly to form a log. Place each log in a greased loaf pan with the seam side down. Cover and let rise for 1 more hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 385 degrees F. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk with the milk lightly. Once the dough has finished its hour of rising, brush the top with the egg yolk wash.

Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Then, lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes. Unlike batter breads and cakes, you don’t need to stick a skewer in there to test if it’s done. Simply tap the top gently – if it sounds hollow, then it’s done.

Cool completely in the pan before running a knife along the sides of the pan and inverting to release the loaf.

The possibilities are now endless.

Enjoy!