Tuesday, February 26, 2008

oh baby!

these wee ones are really a cross between a muffin and a cake and are perfect for when you feel the need for something small. of course, you need to stop after one or two and wait at least 10 minutes before going for the next one :)).

made using whole almonds, ground almonds and almond extract (essence), this pretty much covers the ground for adding a good almond flavour — save the addition of almond paste (marzipan) [which i didn't add this time .... see the recipe for that part].

the only thing specific to this recipe is using baby muffin pans which can pretty much readily be found in many shops these days. if you don't have a pan like that, you can make them larger in regular-sized muffin tins. remember, you'll have to bake them for longer as they are much larger.

these can be frozen nicely.

baby almond orange poppyseed muffins

makes 36 baby muffins



1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c finely ground almonds
1 c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp poppy seeds
3/4 tsp salt


2 eggs
1/2 c oil
3 tbsp applesauce
3/4 c (200 mL) milk or soy milk
1 1/2 - 2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp orange zest, finely ground

36 whole blanched almonds

optional: place 1/2 tsp marzipan (almond paste) in each by spooning in half the batter, then adding the paste in the center and finishing off with the top layer of batter. add the blanched almond on top of that before baking.


grease 3 baby muffin tins with butter or margarine and set aside.

preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

mix dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.

in another bowl, mix together the wet ingredients and whisk to blend.

blend the wet ingredients into the dry and mix. do not beat or overmix. just make sure the flour is completely incorporated.

fill each muffin hole almost to the top and place a single almond on each.

bake for about 18- 22 minutes or until the edges are turning golden brown.

remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes then remove from tins to let cool further. i turn mine on their sides to cool.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

two minute tapenade

tapenades, or olive paste spreads, are great items to have on hand for quick hors d'oeuvres or condiments to use for sandwiches or just eating with breads like pita or sliced baguettes. they are simple to make and can be tailored to suit your own individual tastes. one can use black type olives, like kalamata, or green types — or even a mixture of both.

i make very simple ones from already pitted and sliced olives (in brine) when i'm feeling lazy. otherwise, i like to use olives cured in oil and those which i pit myself. typically, i add capers and anchovy paste but not everyone likes that sort of thing or will eat it if they are vegetarian. i guess you have to know your crowd when you make this!

i'm calling this the two minute tapenade because that is literally how long it should take to make it once you have everything ready to go. how easy is that?

two minute tapenade

makes about 3/4 to 1 cup


1 jar sliced olives (drained) -- 375 mL
1/4 - 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

lemon juice
black pepper
salt, to taste


1 - 2 tbsp capers (i use rinsed salt preserved ones)
1 - 3 anchovies or anchovy paste to taste


drain olives and place in food processor with 2 tbsp olive oil. if using the capers and anchovies, add them now.

pulse the olives (and other ingredients if using) until they are ground.

add about 2 tbsp more olive oil and blend again until you get a paste. some people like it a bit textured so you will have to decide what you like.

remove to a bowl and add a bit of lemon juice and black pepper and stir well.

store in a small jar and cover with another tablespoon or two of olive oil.


winter comfort

barley, or hordeum vulgare, is something we canadians know a lot about ...... considering we produce some 12 million tonnes of it in our prairie provinces, we should! this important little grain has its original beginnings as a wild variety in the levantine areas of middle east and became one of the first domesticated grain crops for both human and animal consumption. as an ancient grain, its use was extremely important in the production of beer and other fermented drinks, and the staff of life — bread (citations back to ancient egypt).

the role of barley [שערה] in judaism is also important. it is one of the seven species [שבעת המינים] which play an integral part in our religion's harvest festival celebrations and are symbolic of the state of israel. barley has figured greatly in ashkenazi soups such as bean and barley, beef and barley, mushroom barley and many other interpretations. these soups are more or less a kind of winter-ish fare and considered a kind of comfort food since barley can be on the heavy side. much of that, however, depends on who is cooking it and the recipe used. but then again, i doubt there are many yiddishe mammas (jewish mothers) who rely/relied on a recipe for these soups! i imagine whatever was available got thrown in.

barley isn't just a jewish or middle eastern thing. it is found in many other cuisines and cultures. it is ground into flour and used in many recipes which have roots in the UK (scottish barley cakes, for example) or northern europe and extends its use all the way into parts of the mediterranean and asia.

barley can be used in a variety of ways — from whole grain preparations to baked items using the finely milled flour. look here for an array of ways to use this grain from the alberta barley commission.

as a final note, there are two types of barley: pearl and pot. pearl barley has the tough outer coating removed and cooks faster than the unpolished pot barley. both can be used for the following recipe however i prefer using the polished (pearl) type grain.

double mushroom barley soup

barley soups are nourishing and hearty. this one, a meatless version, is on the lighter side of those thick pottage type ones. it uses 2 types of mushrooms and some modern flavourings like dark soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. it results in a dark and luscious soup broth, packed full of savoury goodness from the earthy nuances of the mushrooms and dried herbs. the soup freezes well and is good for any time of the year, not just winter!

makes ~ 8 to 10 servings — can be halved.


10 -12 large dried shiitake mushrooms
4 medium sized carrots
1 lb (500 g) white mushrooms or a mixture you like
3 tbsp light olive oil
2 good sized onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage (don't omit)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 to 2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (not japanese type)
1 tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar

1 c pearl barley (not pot barley)
6 c stock (vegetable or beef or chicken)*
3 c water
4 c baby spinach or similar

*you can use stock powder or cubes instead.


place dried shiitakes in a bowl and add 1 cup of boiling water. let sit for 30 minutes.

while mushrooms are soaking, assemble your mise-en-place for the soup.

cut up the onion and the garlic and set aside. peel and slice the carrots on the diagonal in 1/4" slices. set aside for later.

clean the mushrooms and slice them in 1/4 inch pieces. they should be fairly thick. set aside.

measure out the spice and the condiments.

squeeze the mushrooms over the soaking water and place on a chopping board. DO NOT DISCARD the water.

remove the hard stems and slice thinly. strain the liquid and keep aside for later.

in a large soup pot, add the oil and heat on medium until hot. add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened; this will take approximately 5 minutes.

add the carrots and both types of mushrooms and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes. stir every 5 minutes.

once the mushrooms are softened and there is barely any liquid left, add the dried herbs, tomato paste, soy sauce, mushroom water and vinegar. stir well.

add the barley and the stock and water. if using broth cubes, you can add them now. if the cubes are very hard, crumble them first.

for this sized soup, i use 4 cubes as seen below in the pictures. how much you add all depends on the directions of the product you're using.

mix well and cover. cook over low heat for about 1 hour. stir every 10 minutes or so.

after one hour, add the rinsed spinach. you can chop it beforehand but make sure there are no tough stems. they must be removed.

cook for 5 minutes. taste and adjust salt and pepper.

this soup freezes well.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

snack attack

for some reason, this particular winter has seemed to extend itself longer than winters past — well, at least in recent years which come to memory. i shouldn't complain since i'd rather endure the cold and appreciate the sparkling white blankets of soft snow which cover the ground rather than sweat to death and pant for water and air-conditioning in the sweltering temperatures of our unbearably hot and humid summers. if i had my choice, it would permanently be spring and fall. sweater weather. enough with the bathing suits and parkas. i hate extremes.

with the extremes of temperature, one usually either eats more food or less. it's no big surprise that winter is the time for heartier foods and slowing down. invariably, i end up consuming massive amounts of potatoes in the winter. of course, it's something i know i shouldn't be doing as the more of those starchy suckers you eat, the more you can look forward to in weight gain. it's a good thing i have some measure of self-control in the gluttony department :) well, if i'm going to ruin my diet, i may as well do it properly. that means wrapping those potatoes in a pastry crust and deep frying them.

samosas need no introduction — these spicy triangular indian snacks are up there with other similar oil fried appetizer incarnations like vietnamese spring (imperial) rolls and chinese egg rolls. samosas are typically filled with either meat stuffings or vegetarian ones , the most popular and ubiquitous being that of a mixture of spicy potatoes and green garden peas.

the following recipe is simple to make and extremely rewarding. like many recipes which are labour intensive, preparing things ahead of time is a big help. i usually make the filling and pastry the night before and then throw everything together the next day instead of doing it all at once. it feels less overwhelming and seems to go much faster. in reality, all can be done the same day if you prefer.

notes before embarking on making samosas - there are many dough variations and stuffing mixtures. i quite like this one i tried from a cookbook years ago (whose name i can no longer remember). this is actually one of the best ones i've tried over the years. as taste is a highly individual thing, you may have a different opinion. i don't, however, think you'll be disappointed after trying it.

use the correct amount of potatoes stated in the recipe. if you use more than called for, it alters the balance of the spicing and gives more stuffing than is needed, in addition to making it blander.

the dough used here is almost exactly the same as a classic bureka dough — flour, oil, salt and water. the difference is that is that samosas are deep fried whereas burekas are baked.

you'll notice that the dough will have a pocked appearance once it rests; this is normal and perfectly fine. the dough will also be oily. this is essential as the dough is rolled out without using flour; it helps in shaping the dough rounds and gives the final flaky texture.

two important things about making the dough: the oil is worked into the flour with the hands to coat all the flour — a typically indian technique. the samosa dough is rolled out as a whole (round) and then each round is cut in half to yield two. this is the standard way to form the pastry shells. don't overstuff the samosas.

this recipe, if made to the proportions below, yields exactly enough for each one when divided equally.

now go make samosas! :))

potato & green pea samosas

makes 8 large appetizer size samosas (can be doubled)



1 c all purpose flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1/4 c + 1 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp salt


1/2 lb (~250 g) new potatoes (with edible skin) approx. 2 medium ones
1/2 c minced onion
2 - 3 tsp garlic-ginger paste (or equal amounts finely minced)
1/2 c frozen or fresh green peas
1/2 - 1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 - 1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 - 2 tsp amchoor or 1 - 2 tbsp lemon juice
3 - 4 tbsp chopped coriander


make the dough —

place the flour, salt and oil in a bowl and rub the two together until well incorporated. do this for about 2 or 3 minutes. there should be no clumps.

add the 1/4 c of warm water and with your hands mix to make a dough. add the extra 1 tbsp if needed. the dough will be fairly firm.

knead the dough for a minute or so. place the dough in the fridge for an hour (while you make the filling). note that the dough can be kept a day or two in the fridge and brought to room temperature and rolled out with excellent results.

make the filling —

wash the potatoes and remove any eyes or blemishes. i always use new potatoes which i don't have to peel. if you want you can peel them but they have a higher nutritional value with the skin on.

slice the potatoes lengthwise into 1/4 inch or slightly larger slabs.

stack half of the potato and cut into 1/4 inch cubes. make lengthwise cuts almost to the end and then cross cut to form cubes. place the cubes in a bowl of water to prevent oxidization (browning).

if using garlic and ginger, take one large or two small cloves of garlic and mince them. if using whole ginger, remove the dark skin and mince a 1/2 inch piece. otherwise, use garlic-ginger paste or just ginger paste.

cut an onion and dice it and measure out a 1/2 c.

measure out the cumin seeds.

do the same with the spices. measure out the lemon juice if using it instead of the mango powder.

in a wok or karai, heat 2 - 3 tbsp oil over medium heat and fry the cumin seeds until browned (NOT dark brown).

add the potatoes, onions and the ginger and garlic (paste).

stir to mix everything well and then cover the pan with a tight fitting lid.

lower the heat to medium low and let the mixture cook for 10 to 12 minutes. while that is cooking, chop the coriander.

remove the lid, and stir. add the spices, salt, peas and coriander. if using the lemon juice do NOT add it now.

mix all together and cover the pan and cook for another 8 minutes over medium low heat.

if using lemon juice, add it now and mix again. you can taste the mixture and adjust the salt, garam masala and amchoor, if wanted.

let the mixture cool and take out the dough from fridge while it cools.

form the samosas —

remove the dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (more or less).

divide into 4 equal portions (each portion yields two samosas). keep the other three covered while working with one portion.

over low heat, place enough oil in a wok or karai to deep fry. the oil will heat slowly as you stuff the samosas. you can turn up the heat to medium before you are ready to fry them.

divide the filling into 8 equal portions. do this now as it is easier when stuffing the pastries to have everything ready.

place a small dish of water near your to help seal the pastries.

on an UNFLOURED surface, place one of balls of dough and roll it out into a very thin circle. it should be about 7 or 8 inches (i never measure so i can't say for sure). be patient and keep rolling it may take a bit of practice. it is quite easy to do however. do not worry about getting a perfectly round circle.

with a knife, cut directly in half. this is important — make sure it is equal (though a little off center won't matter much).

wet the length edge with a dab of water along the line where you cut of one half of the dough. this is to seal the dough "cone".

bring one edge to the center as shown below and slightly press down to seal.

bring the other side over to far edge of the dough to shape the pastry triangle. press slightly to seal.

make sure the bottom (point) is completely closed.

pick up the triangle and keep it in one hand. open it up gently with the other hand making sure the bottom is completely closed (no hole at the pointed end).

place one portion of the filling in the cone and press down on it slightly to stuff it all in. the pastry should not break or be so thin as to break. if it does, you need to roll the dough slightly thicker.

wet the top edge of the pastry with your fingers.

press lower dough edge closest to you towards the back of the stuffing to enclose it. pull the top edge down over the enclosed filling and press on it to seal the triangle.

repeat the procedure with as many as you are making at the given time.

cooking the samosas —

turn up the heat to medium high and place the samosas in the oil. i only fry 4 at a time. it is always best to drop one in and see if it bubbles right away. if it doesn't, the oil is not high enough. quickly remove the samosa if the oil isn't ready and wait until hot enough.

fry about 4 minutes per side or until golden brown.

remove to paper towel and let drain and cool a bit.

serve with tamarind chutney or coriander (mint) chutney. sprinkle with chaat masala if wanted.