Category Archives: Cooking

I Can Feel the Seasons Changing

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Hot Cross Buns
Crocuses – a sure sign of Spring.

Crocuses – a sure sign of Spring.

I can always tell when spring is here because overnight my mood shifts. Last week, for example, I was anxious and frustrated and simultaneously bored with and all-encompassed by my projects. I couldn’t wait to finish Almondine, but I also couldn’t stand to look at them anymore; the apartment needed cleaning but the sight of the broom made me chafe, etc. On Monday, this funk was transformed into a super-productive get-shit-done mode. I finished my book. I finished Almondine. I finished a tea cozy that had been languishing since January. I cast on something new. I cooked. I baked. I went for a big walk in sneakers with my jacket sleeves rolled up.

This spurt of positive productivity (that is, getting stuff done that I wanted to get done – not just doing what I had to do, but enjoying it) definitely coincided with a shift in the weather. It has been gorgeous in Toronto this week and, although I know it’s March and therefore, more snow is likely, I can’t help but be excited by the prospect of spring. L and I went biking on Sunday and it was glorious.

So, that’s one reason I know it’s Spring. The other reason is that for the past two weeks I’ve been craving hot cross buns something fierce. It’s weird, because the rest of the year I don’t think about them (I’m also someone not tempted by shortbread unless it’s Christmas), but something trips in my head when the weather perks up and I get into Easter mode. I’m not religious, nor am I a super fan of pastels, nor do I have children excited for an egg hunt, all of which means that what I love most about Easter is the food, and particularly the baking.

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns, fresh out of the oven and right after the lemon glaze went on.

Thus, yesterday I made hot cross buns – my first of the season – and half the batch is almost gone. When I was making them, L (who is not a super fan, but will indulge a bit) sand “Hot crossed buns, hot crossed buns, see how they run” and then stopped, because he knew he’d gotten mixed up somewhere in there (obviously his nursery school failed him). Anyway, these are Lemon Currant Hot Cross Buns, from the LCBO Food & Drink magazine from Spring 2009 (yes, I keep all the issues stacked on my shelf) and they are delicious! I didn’t have currants, so I subbed in raisins and pecans and they worked out perfectly; next time, though, I will find some currants because they really are delicious.

Primroses

I don't have a garden, so I bought some primroses to keep me company inside.

What signs of Spring have you noticed? Have the seasons changed for you yet?

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Granola, Two Ways

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I admit that I had hoped to be posting about finishing my Almondine socks, but I haven’t had as much time to knit this week as I’d hoped and it’s looking like it may take the weekend to get them done. Am I the slowest sock knitter ever? Maybe. But I’ve been distracted, at least partly by the following.

Right out of the oven.

Right out of the oven.

Granola!

For a while last year I was in the habit of making granola regularly – every two weeks or so – because I loved having it with fruit and yogourt for breakfast. It was quick, healthy, reliable, and, when I could get to Bulk Barn for supplies, quite cheap. This habit ended abruptly in September when L and I moved and our new oven was such a disaster I put off cleaning it for a month. That, combined with no easy access to a bulk foods shop (a new one has since opened downtown) put an end to my granola making. Well, no more!

My favourite serving: fruit, yogourt, honey, granola

My favourite serving: fruit, yogourt, honey, granola

Inspired by L’s recent musings about how it’s been a while since I made granola and the Slate Culture Gabfest (one of my favourite podcasts)’s recent Granola-off – you can listen to all the action here – I decided it was time to revive my granola habit. I am so pleased I did. Our apartment smelled great, breakfast is no longer a sort of sad chore, and it felt a little like getting reacquainted with an previously enjoyable routine. The recipe is below.

After it's all mixed up (the pink is from raspberries).

After it's all mixed up (the pink is from raspberries).

But yes, my post title does say Granola, Two Ways, so here’s the second: cookies.

Two dozen cookies.

Two dozen cookies.

Although I usually call these Trailmix Cookies, they have pretty much all the same ingredients as my granola, with the addition of baking things and dried fruit, and are just as simple.

There's a lot in there.

There's a lot in there.

This is the basic recipe I used (from food.com), but I definitely modified it. For example, instead of 1 cup of brown sugar, I use 1/2 cup of molasses and a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, which lets me get away with not using any eggs; I also use shortening over margarine; 2 cups of flour instead of the flour-wheat germ blend; and no chocolate chips. As for nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, I just use whatever I have on hand. The result is a reliably delicious, but not too sweet, cookie chock-full of crunchy, chewy goodness. Seriously, you cannot go wrong (even my sisters, who hate raisins in every form, love these cookies with raisins in them).

Vanilla-Scented Granola

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1.5 cups whatever other unsalted nuts you want, broken to your preferred size (I usually use cashews, pecans, and pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup flax seeds
pinch ground cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey (could sub in maple syrup)
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract (don’t bother with this if you use maple syrup)

Preheat oven to 300F and lightly oil a large baking sheet (make sure it has edges).
Mix oats, nuts, seeds, and cinnamon in a bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine oil, sugar, and honey. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat, and add vanilla.
Pour hot liquid over dry ingredients and stir well. Use your hands to toss the mixture until everything is thoroughly covered.
Spread on prepared baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 or so minutes, until it’s golden brown.
Cool and enjoy!

Tomato Soup bliss

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Not Campbell's soup.

Not Campbell's soup.

For years, thanks to Campbell’s, I thought I hated tomato soup. Then I went to Europe. When I was backpacking through Austria, tomato soup was one of the most reliably vegetarian and cheap items on the menu, so, in the spirit of trying new things and eating on the cheap, I tried it. Well, it turns out those Austrians know a thing or two about making incredible soup. I ate pretty much nothing else the entire time I was there (well, that and bread and cheese, of course).

Anyway, when I got back to Canada I set out to try and find a reliably good tomato soup recipe. So far, I haven’t found anything as good as the Austrian soup (I should say, though, that it’s just as delicious and consistent in Switzerland, so maybe there’s a skiing connection?), but I do have a couple of good ones to fall back on.

My first foray into tomato soup making was four years ago via the New York Times. It was right around the time they started their ‘Recipes for Health’ series, and they posted a recipe for Roasted Tomato Soup. It is delicious (although I always use stock, not water), but it can be pretty time consuming to roast and peel all those tomatoes. I also ruined several baking sheets before I realized I could use a pyrex dish just as effectively.

Lately, though, I’ve been mixing it up. First was that Georgian Tomato Soup with Walnuts and Vermicelli, which was very rich and meaty-tasting, despite being completely vegetarian. Anyway, when I had friends over for dinner on Saturday I thought about making that again, but since I was also going to make the Khachapuri, I thought I should at least change up the soup. So, I went looking for a new recipe.

I scanned through a lot before settling on The Kitchn’s Cream of Tomato Soup. It wasn’t too time consuming (good if you’re having people over) and sounded like it might get me in the neighbourhood of my European dream soup. I used tomato passato instead of canned tomatoes – there are fewer preservatives and, for a pureed soup, it makes for a very smooth texture – and since I didn’t have any dried basil I just subbed in some dried oregano; I also left out the celery, because I didn’t have any. Delicious, and a perfect match for the Khatchapuri – who doesn’t love tomato soup and something grilled cheese-esque?

Cream of Tomato Soup

Cream of Tomato Soup

I didn’t take pictures on Saturday, but it was so good and there weren’t any leftovers, so I made it again today. In the meantime, I bought some basil, so I used that and dried oregano. I also added a swizzle of olive oil, a little bit of honey, and some leftover (frozen) puréed Marzano tomatoes (ostensibly pizza sauce). For a richer taste, I think 35% cream would be ideal, but we only had 1% milk, so I used that. Anyway, if you’re in the mood for an easy and very yummy soup, add this one to your repertoire.

This soup is even faster if you have stock on-hand. I usually try to make big batches so I have some in the freezer when I feel like soup.

Reliable Veggie Stock
2 sticks of celery, washed and chopped into big pieces
2 large carrots, washed and peeled and roughly chopped
2 onions, quartered
2 med. potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 apple, washed and chopped (just cut around the core)
5 or 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 or so pepper corns
3 bay leaves
12 cups of water

Put everything into a big pot and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for an hour or so. Strain and you’re finished! Use it warm right away or cool completely and then freeze.
To give it more body, I recommend adding mushrooms (or, just the stems, if you have them – just make sure to wash them well).

Fake Spring Weather/Real Spring Cleaning (and cooking!)

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It is a gorgeous day in Toronto – about 7C and sunny – and L and I just went for a lovely walk around the neighbourhood (we brought a disc instead of a camera, though, because he wanted to toss a bit in the park). I am so ready for winter to be over that, in my mind, it already is. This weather just proves it, right? L, who doesn’t want me to be disappointed when the March storms inevitably roll in, was more tempered in his enthusiasm, but still, even Fake Spring feels pretty nice.

And, whether the season is fake or real, the cleaning it inspired over the weekend is unquestionable.

The nicest it's ever looked.

The nicest it's ever looked.

Look at how tidy my work space is! I didn’t take a before shot because, frankly, it was too embarrassing. There were half-unpacked boxes stacked there, with bags and shoes piled around in front, and it was so bad that my rolling chair was reduced to basically a swivel. But, on Saturday L got a new dresser, which meant his old one could be used for organization (can you believe a grown man used a dresser that small?). The top two drawers have been designated for our hats, mitts/gloves, and scarves, but I claimed the bottom drawer for knitting-related items, and have also gained an office surface on top. The basket is currently holding needles, notions, and other odds and sods, while my pattern books are stacked beside it and, on the shelf above those, my to-be-read pile (you can see my knitting – Almondine sock number 2, of which more later – on the desk at the edge of the photo). It may never look this neat again, but I’m very pleased with it.

Besides cleaning and organizing, this weekend involved lots of cooking, which I love. On Saturday we had friends over for dinner and I made some Georgian food, inspired by my parents’ Grub Club (monthly dinner club they’ve have going with friends for over a decade). I made Bostneulis Kharcho (tomato soup with walnuts and vermicelli) and Khachapuri (bread baked with cheese inside.

This soup looked much better in person.

This soup looked much better in person.

The lighting in my kitchen is a little iffy, but you get the idea. Both recipes were incredibly simple, but had rather impressive results, and I would highly recommend them – both are from The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein.

Khachapuri – all puffed up and fresh out of the oven.

Khachapuri – all puffed up and fresh out of the oven.

L, Carmen and Sam playing boardgames after dinner.

L, Carmen and Sam playing boardgames after dinner.

Boardgames!

Boardgames!

Yes, this is just the sort of Saturday night I like.

Pancake Tuesday

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I love pancakes. Love them. When I was at home my mum and I made pancakes for breakfast on Sunday (my grandparents were visiting, so we dressed up breakfast a little), but even though I had eaten pancakes recently, when I realized it was Shrove Tuesday yesterday, I knew I would have to whip up some more.

We had spent the rather overcast and rainy day in the Junction (one of our favourite neighbourhoods) making use of our Coffee Passports. Actually, as an aside, if you happen to live in Toronto, I definitely recommend The Good Neighbour, a café at Annette St. and Quebec Ave. – it had great decor, a delicious selection of drinks and pastries, and was a productive place to get a little work done.

Indie Coffee Passport

Indie Coffee Passport

Where Quebec Ave. meets Annette St.

Where Quebec Ave. meets Annette St. – the view from The Good Neighbour

Anyway, from there we went to a pub to watch some soccer (I knit, he watched) and then headed home. Long story short: In our ramblings I had only managed to eat a muffin (albeit a delicious muffin) since breakfast, so when I got home around 5 I was starving and immediately set about making myself a grilled cheese. I realized an hour later that it was pancake Tuesday.

Pancakes!

Pancakes!

Luckily, L had a late frisbee game, so I had a feeling he’d want a bite to eat when he got home, which meant I could make late-night pancakes without worrying they wouldn’t get eaten. The real bonus, though, was that neither of us were hungry enough to eat more than two each, so we got to have leftover pancakes for breakfast this morning. There’s something about cold pancakes with jam that I just can’t get enough of, so Pancake Tuesday turned out to be a success all around!

Leftover pancakes

Leftover pancakes, dressed up with marmalade (right) and my mum's homemade strawberry jam

Fool-proof Fluffy Pancakes

1 1/3 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 tbsp salad oil

1. Mix dry ingredients in a big bowl.
2. In a small bowl, combine wet ingredients and mix well.
3. Add liquid to dry and beat until smooth (if you let it sit, you will probably need some more milk to thin it out – the baking powder makes for fluffy pancakes, but it starts working quickly).
4. Use 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Greasing griddle/frying pan for first round only.

Makes 8-10 pancakes.

Wintry Weekend

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Toronto has had a pretty pathetic winter so far, with temperatures ping-ponging above and below freezing and more rain than snow. So, when we woke up Saturday morning and it was snowing (and had clearly snowed most of the night), we decided to take advantage of it.

It was early enough that most of the snow was still untouched, although all along the streets in our neighbourhood people were out shovelling their driveways and the sidewalks in front of their houses. We saw a lot of little kids excited for an excuse to wear their snowsuits.

Speaking of which (although only sort of): I knit this scarf in early January when I was still gearing up for the cold and snowy winter that seemed imminent.

I may get around to writing a proper post about it (with a more representative photo), but in the meantime, the easy details are that it’s knit with Cascade Eco+ on 6 mm needles. It is cosy and warm and goes surprisingly well with my bright read coat. Also knit with Cascade Eco+ are my Diamond-Backed mitts (pattern, and less blurry photo, forthcoming).

We had a lovely walk and a busy rest of the day, so on Sunday we decided to be homebodies. We’ve been watching the new season of BBC’s Sherlock, and oh, it is excellent. I knit through the first episode and then we decided it was time to make some lunch. What could be more perfect for a cold and lazy day than pizza? The recipe for the dough and sauce are below; toppings-wise we used Buffalo mozzarella, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, and capers one the first and all those things plus red onion on the second. Yum yum.

Yeast-free dough:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 med. potato, mashed
1. Combine dry ingredients. Add mashed potato and olive oil. Mix together while slowly adding water.
2. Turn onto lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5-7 minutes). Shape and layer with toppings.
3. Bake at 450F for 15-25 minutes (depending on thickness of toppings, desired crispiness, etc.)
(Makes dough for one pizza).

For tomato sauce, I use one can of Marzano tomatoes (remove about 1/2 cup of the liquid), gently mash the tomatoes with a spoon and season with salt and pepper (if you want it a little bit spicy, add some chili flakes). Freeze whatever you don’t use for later.

A knitting blog?

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Well, not quite. I mean, yes. This will be a knitting blog. But it will also be about cooking and recipes, and interesting household-y things I find.

Why? Well, I learned to knit just over a year ago and have been ramping up my productivity lately and thought it would be fun to have an online outlet. I already blog about books, so the idea of blogging is familiar and has proven a good motivator in the past. As for the cooking aspect, well, I work nights so I don’t get many chances to cook and I miss it. I thought this might motivate to do more cooking, and make more interesting dishes, when I get the chance.

I will update weekly – likely on Mondays – and maybe more, so check back and let me know how I’m doing, whether there are other things I should be focusing on, and what your favourite sites of this sort are.