Sunday, February 27, 2005

chocolate trifle

Look! A completely unhealthy recipe from me!!!! Well, ok, it has no trans fats. I guess this is as unhealthy as I get. This recipe is a bit long and complicated if you've never made any of the components before. If you have, it's totally easy. I'm going to be a bit cruel and assume that you're capable of the components, mostly because I'm typing on Stirling's computer and it's nasty so I don't want to type more than I have to.


1 8" chocolate sponge cake (halving a regular recipe seems to work nicely)
about 2/3 cup tart red fruit compote (I used wild cranberries and dried sour cherries, made with red wine and port)
chocolate custard (make regular custard, melt chocolate with a bit of butter, stir together while both are a bit warm & let cool)
whipped cream

(Eeeeewww I just saw Steven Sabados & Chris Hyndeman (designer guys) hocking flavoured coffee mate on tv. I just lost any sort of respect for them I ever had. Sellouts.)

Back to the trifle. Find some sort of serving bowl that will be deep enough for 3 decent layers, and which will take the least amount of hacking to the sponge cake to make it fit. Hack the sponge as necessary and put it in the bottom of the bowl, spongier side UP. Sprinkle with some sort of sweet/tart hard alcohol. I used sloe gin, but I gather that's hard to come by in this country so cherry brandy would work, or something like that. Port probably isn't quite alcoholic enough. If you used cherries in the compote you could also use a nut liquer. Spoon the compote over the cake and spread around. Top with the cooled chocolate custard. Top that with whipped cream, and garnish with chocolate shavings.

The thing that really works with this is the intense tart fruit and the rich chocolate flavour. As long as you preserve that constrast, you can substitute pretty much anything.

Friday, February 25, 2005

the many delights of sablefish

If I had to vote for "tastiest fish ever", I would totally vote for sablefish. They are ugly (which probably explains why they're never sold whole in retail shops) but boy do they ever taste good. And not only that, but they're soooo easy to cook. The flesh is firm, flaky and slightly oily/moist (like halibut, but without the possibility of dryness) but it has way more flavour than halibut or cod or other white fish. It's not an intense flavour like salmon or tuna though.

But I digress. Our meal last night consisted of soba noodles, blanched chard (it's getting a bit tough and chewy for the steam-treatment) and a thoroughly tasty little bit of sablefish:

Maple-Sambal Sablefish

2 small (3-oz) fillets of sablefish
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp sambal oelek (or more, if yours isn't that zingy)
1 tbsp soy sauce
chinese cooking wine

Preheat the oven to 400F, and put a small skillet (big enough to hold the 2 pieces of fish) on a medium burner to heat up. Score the skin of the fish so it doesn't go all curly when it starts cooking, and rub the skin side with sesame oil. Combine the maple syrup, sambal and soy sauce in a small bowl.

When the pan is hot enough, place the fillets in skin side down. Brush the tops with the maple stuff, a couple of times until they're nice and slathered. Sablefish is a bit absorbent so you'll see the glaze seep in a bit.

Cook on the stovetop for about 3-5 minutes, until the glaze bits that drip off start to look like they might want to begin burning. Splash a little chinese cooking wine into the skillet to prevent that, brush the fish again with the glaze, and throw the pan into the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes. If you forget and they're in there longer, don't worry. It's virtually impossible to overcook sablefish (one of its many virtues).

Check fish for doneness (should flake easily with the point of a knife). If it's done, remove it from the pan, put the pan back on the stovetop, and turn up the heat. There will be stickies. Throw a bit more cooking wine in before they start to burn and reduce until you've got a wee bit of a sauce. Toss in any of the glaze that's left.

Serve on a green vegetable and brown rice or soba. Yummmmmeeeeeee.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

vanilla smarties

You know all about the Smarties paradigm, right? The candy shell colours are just colours and not indicative of flavour. Well, they totally broke that and now there are vanilla-flavoured smarties, and the vanilla flavouring is all in the shell part. I wouldn't be so upset about this if they actually tasted good. But they don't, perhaps predictably. So now you don't feel obligated to try them. This is one of the many services that this blog provides.

tomato-pesto barley risotto

This is actually from Tuesday night, not last night. And it's delicious.


1/2 small onion, finely diced
1.5 ish litres lightly salted chicken stock, heated
1/3 - 1/2 cup white wine
1 cup barley (pearled or pot)
1 cup chopped dried tomatoes*
1 tbsp or so pesto
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Sauté the onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add barley & stir til it smells toasty. Add wine, stir until absorbed. Now start adding the chicken stock about 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring frequently (but not constantly, you can do other stuff while you make this). When it gets almost to the texture you want it, add the tomatoes, pesto, pepper and cheese, then adjust seasoning to taste. Cover and leave off the heat for 5 minutes, then serve.

*To make your own dried tomatoes, use romas, quarter them, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet (important - they are sticky little buggers when they're done), and leave them in a 200F oven for at least 4 hours.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Jumping on the bandwagon - it's a good thing

Real Canadian Superstore now has a whole line of convenience foods that are trans-fat free, relatively low in calories, etc. etc. Good for them. I've always been a fan of the President's Choice stuff. There are some exceptions, but generally their packaged foods are tasty and don't have excessive amounts of guck in them.

I think this is less about new products than it is about rebranding existing ones, which is fine - the whole point is giving ordinary consumers an easy way to identify trans-fat-free, relatively healthy products. The ancient grains crackers are especially tasty and healthy.

Now, if only there was a Superstore (and not that crappy warehouse thing on Quadra) closer than Langford....

Menu for a week or so

I didn't get around to doing up a weekly menu last night, but I thought that it would make sense to post it here instead so I can access it both at home and at work (another reason why the web is a better place for information than my fridge door). Also, if anyone wants to rip it off, feel free.


Lunch: leftover chicken, barley & salad
Dinner: pork tenderloin with mustard-port sauce, mashed taters, zucchini & carrots


Lunch: leftovers & salad
Dinner: omlette with dried tomatoes, salami, pesto & parmesan & salad


Lunch: sliced chicken breast on greens w/yogurt balsamic dressing, & fruit
Dinner: fillet of some halibut-like thing with a maple-sambal glaze, sauteed chard and brown rice


Lunch: antipasto-type stuff and multigrain bread
Dinner: roast beast, yorkshires & super-salad


Lunch: antipasto-type stuff or soup
Dinner: house dinner, I'm on dessert -> Rachel's mascarpone cheesecake, I think.


Lunch: roast beast sandwich and fruits
Dinner: salmon, soba & greens

I'll make up the rest of next week's menu on the weekend. Now I just need to generate a shopping list, hit the shops after work (La Collina, Thrifty's, 4-Ways) and we're good to go.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

routines, importance of

The past week and a bit has been bad for my routines. I love my new bike, but it takes a bit longer to get home in the evening, resulting in Stirling doing more cooking (which is not a bad thing really, he makes very very tasty stir-fries), and a tendency towards faster meals when I cook. There are tons of tasty fast meals to be made, but occasionally I want something that takes longer.

The other problem is that with the excitement of my sister visiting, helping Don & Amy move, and having friends over on the weekend, the essential weekend grocery shop never happened. Also, I didn't make up a menu for this week, and we've been doing day-to-day shopping and asking "what's for dinner tonight" a lot. Plus, I have no lunches for work. But I guess it takes a week like this to make me really appreciate what a weekly menu does for us. It's one of those liberating chores that once it's done and the groceries are bought, you really don't have to think about it for another week.

So, tonight I will make up a menu for the rest of the week and maybe next week too, and a shopping list for tomorrow and another for Saturday, and then on Saturday I will do a real grocery shop and all this food-related stress will go away.

Oh, and the point of this - weekly menus are a really, really, really good idea. Really.

Monday, February 21, 2005

mmmm crumpets

Sue, Artos, Clamb & Heidi came over yesterday and we ate crumpets. They were tasty. And, just for the record, they seem to be one of the few baked items that one finds in a package at the grocery store that DON'T have hydrogenated oils in them. In fact, they have no fat at all.

Of course, dosing them with devonshire cream fixes that little problem.

If you want to make your own crumpets (and I do, just not right now) here's a recipe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Two Fun New Sites

This is a very sensible diet that some bright spark dreamed up. I can't see any reason why it wouldn't work pretty well if combined with regular physical activity. The only caveat I would offer is that if you do too much physical activity, you need the odd snack. I was totally anti-snack for myself for a long time, which was fine until I upped my activity level significantly in the last 2-3 weeks. Now I find that I need a little something (fruit, yogurt, 1/2 granola bar kind of something) before I work out, otherwise I feel like I'm going to pass out. But that's ONLY on days when I'm doing 2 hours of cardio and an hour of strength training or something. Which, insanely enough, I have actually been doing.

The other fun site I thought I'd mention is all about a new, cheap, fast way to exercise. It totally makes sense, although buddy who dreamed it up has a little to learn about how evolution kind of works. Nevertheless, excellent idea, I think I'll "install" one of those in our house and see how it flies.

(The Shovelglove site link is thanks to Krista.)

Cheesecake is a healthfood right?

I was watching someone on TV last weekend make tira misu and I remembered that I had wanted to make a cheesecake sometime with mascarpone instead of regular cream cheese. I've never really liked the chocolate cheesecakes and other similar flavours of cheesecake I've tasted because I felt the slight sourness of the cream cheese made the overall flavour a bit nasty. So since I was doing nothing on Sunday, I got out the lemon cheesecake recipe (fantastic) from June 2003 Cook's Illustrated magazine and got to work. I decided on a tira misu inspired cake as that was what got me going. Mascarpone is a bit softer in texture than regular cream cheese so I added another egg to the recipe, but I don't know if that was necessary. I also left out the 1/2 c of whipping cream as I didn't see a need for it. I've also been making nut crusts rather than cookie crumb crusts with good success.

The basic recipe is:

1.5lb mascarpone (or cream cheese if you want something more sour)
4 or 5 eggs
1 to 1.5 c sugar (depending on the flavourings you use and personal taste)
1/4 tsp salt
flavour (in my case I put in 2 oz of melted chocolate, 1/4 c of dark rum and 1/4 c of strong coffee)

1.5 c of ground up nuts (kind of hard to measure unless they are pre-ground so just guess)
2 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp sugar

I used a combination of walnuts and hazelnuts for this cake, but I think pecans would have been good too for these flavours. I used almonds when I made the lemon cheescake and they worked nicely. You can of course use cookie crumbs, just double the amount of butter to 4 tbsp.


Preheat oven to 325F

Pulse the nuts in a food processor until they reach a large sand grain size. Add sugar and pulse a few more times. Drizzle in melted butter with the processor running just to combine. Press into a 9 inch spring form pan. Use the flat bottom of a glass or a ramekin to flatten and compact. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, watch to make sure you don't burn the nuts. A cookie crust would probably take closer to 15 minutes. Cool crust before adding filling

In a standing mixer (if you are lucky and have one) or with a hand mixer (if you are me) blend mascarpone (or cream cheese that has been softened) for a few minutes until it is smooth and not at all lumpy. Add the sugar and salt and blend again for a minute. Add eggs 1 or 2 at a time, and blend after each addition to incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl a few times while you are doing all this (not while the mixer is running). Add your flavourings and if you are using melted chocolate, add it to the other flavourings first and blend it together or you will get little flecks of solidified chocolate throughout your cake when it hits the cooler batter. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I am irritated that I didn't think of it and had little chocolate bits in my cake instead of a smooth batter. Blend this all until combined and then pour on top of the cool crust. Bake in the oven (still at 325F) for about 55 minutes until the sides are slightly puffed and the surface is no longer shiny. It should still wobble a bit in the middle. After the 55 minutes is up, turn off the oven leaving the cake inside, and prop open the oven door with a wooden spoon handle. Leave the cake there for at least an hour, then bring out to cool on a rack. Once cool, chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Top with whatever you want. A chocolate sauce would be nice with this, or a chocolate ganache. The lemon cheese cake is topped with lemon curd and is really, really, really good. I think an orange cheese cake topped with raspberry goop would be nice too.

Soya Sauce Chicken

Moderately fast and healthy, but very easy and tasty.

4 or 5 bits of chicken (leg bits work best)
1/2 cup or less soya sauce
1/2 cup white wine
2-3 tbsp mirin
1 star anise (optional)
2-3 cups chicken stock (unsalted)

Combine all the liquid ingredients and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Throw in bits of chicken, removing skin if you want. Boil chicken in mixture until done, probably 20 minutes.

Serve on brown rice with steamed tender greens or blanched not-so-tender greens. Spoon some of the liquid over to serve, but you can freeze the rest and reuse it the next time you want to make this dish.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Lentil Stew

This makes enough for 2 people for dinners with leftovers, usually. And you can throw in extra veggies too. Tomatoes are good in it. I found kale in the fridge last night, so in it went. I think we're officially out of vegetables now, except for carrots & onions.

2 slices bacon
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 sm-med carrots or 1 large, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup - 1 cup dried lentils (the green ones are tastier but the orange ones cook faster.. you choose)
1/2 cup off-dry white wine
1 litre chicken broth (the Pacific brand in the tetrapak works well with this) for green lentils
OR 1/2 litre chicken broth for orange lentils

You might need less or more liquid - it depends on your lentils. Pretty much all the amounts are approximate because I never measure anything, so if something looks like too much or too little, it probably is.


1) Slice and dice everything that needs it.
2) Get out a good-sized saucepan, put the bacon in it, and place it on a burner turned to med heat. (The bacon fat renders better if it starts cold.)
3) When the bacon is starting to sizzle nicely, add the onions, carrot & celery. Don't add the garlic yet - it'll burn before anything else cooks properly.
4) Cook until things are browning and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir frequently but not constantly. Add lentils.
5) When there is a good amount of brown stickies on the bottom of the pot, add the wine. Stir, releasing the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan. (The stickies make it taste good.)
6) Continue to stir until the wine has mostly evaporated/been absorbed by the lentils.
7) Add the chicken broth, the garlic, and the bay leaves.
8) Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes for green lentils, 10 minutes for orange, but check it often. If it starts to look dry, add more liquid.
9) Start testing the lentils for doneness. I have found big variations in how fast they cook, so they're basically done when the lentils are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. If they seem pretty tender but there's still a lot of liquid, just take the lid off the pot, turn the heat up to med-high, and wait for the liquid to evaporate, stirring often. Or just say "hey, lentil soup" and eat it anyway. Season to taste - you probably won't need to add a lot of salt thanks to the bacon, but a nice hit of freshly ground pepper works well.

Goes very well with a nice piece of multigrain bread and a salad. Or, if you're trying to get more protein in your diet, a chunk of steamed salmon or some sliced chicken also works nicely. In its drier, less soupy form, it's also good with a poached egg on top.

You can also turn this into lentil curry pretty easily, by replacing the bacon with olive oil and curry powder/spices instead. Everything else stays the same.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

thyme steak

This is like steak++. The marinade makes the steak taste steakier. Sooo tasty and good.

1 chunk of steak (3 -5 oz each person)
couple sprigs fresh thyme
1 - 2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup or so red wine
2 tbsp olive oil

Place the thyme (washed, if it just came out of your garden) in a large ziploc bag. Bash it, through the bag, with the butt end of a knife, to release the tasty oils. Add the garlic cloves, slightly smooshed. Add the olive oil, red wine, salt & pepper (you'll probably want about 1/2 tsp of each). Squish it around a bit, then throw the steak in, and leave it sealed up for a few hours in the fridge.

When you're ready to cook the steak, remove it from the bag, brush off any clingy garlic or thyme, pat it dry, brush on a little more olive oil, and throw it in a frying pan or grill on medium heat. Cook until done, whatever done is for you.

Serve with whatever you like with steak. We had some tasty asparagus with it last night. Potatoes would have been good too, but I didn't get home until 8 and they take a while to cook, so it was a bit of an inadvertently Atkins meal.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

fitness incentives

The fitness challenge at work is up and running now. Time will tell how it turns out - so far the response has been mostly good, and apparently the introductory e-mail prevented one of my coworkers from having a can of coke yesterday, so as far as I'm concerned, it's a success :-)

Also, apparently Gordon Campbell & co. are getting in on the action and announced a fitness/health program of some sort in the Throne Speech yesterday. I have no idea what actual programs are going to be put in place. In theory I support any initiative like this, but it remains to be seen how completely lame it is. Personally, I think that companies should be given tax breaks for instituting programs that get their employees healthier. I doubt that there's much a government can do - what kind of individual tax breaks could you give someone - a "healthy weight" tax benefit? Deduct your fitness club fees? Anyone have any thoughts on this? Anyone know what the throne speech actually said on this?

Monday, February 07, 2005

since when is pound cake a healthier choice?

This article on kids' preferences for sweet food and aversion to vegetables was on HealthDay today. Generally it's a good article, but pound cake as a better choice than muffins???? Um, how, exactly? Pound cake is named thusly because of the ingredients: pound of flour, pound of butter, pound of sugar, if I'm not mistaken. Muffins - well, maybe not the "cake in a muffin tin" kind you can get at some less reputable coffee shops, but the good kind that you make yourself (like Heather's pumpkin raisin muffins, the recipe for which I would like to post, if she doesn't mind)... they're healthy, good for you, and tasty. I think it's sad how poor little muffins have been mutated and subsequently vilified.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

trans fats make you stupid

...which is probably why people keep eating them.

This study gives one more reason to not eat trans fats - as if warped cell structure, raised bad cholesterol, lowered good cholesterol, artery-clogging and minor complaints like skin damage weren't enough.

In other, more random news - don't waste your money on Secret brand "bottom shaper" nylons. They appear to be squishing rather than lifting. Just saying.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Warm pear dessert for a cold day

This is something I dreamed up last year for a small dinner party. It was very well received and I have made it a couple of times since. The good thing is that you can use pears that are still too hard to eat, which they often are when you first buy them. It does take a long time to cook (particularly if the pears are hard), but you put it on before dinner and don't have to pay too much attention to it, and then serve it hot from the pan for dessert.


half a pear per person
2-3 cinnamon sticks
5-6 whole cloves
apple juice
splash of brandy or grand marnier (optional)

Yogurt topping

enough plain yogurt for a big spoonful for each serving
couple dashes of cinnamon
honey or maple syrup to taste (optional)


Peel the pears, cut in quarters and remove the core and stem. Place in a pan so that all the pear pieces are lying on the bottom, not piled up. Cover with apple juice, toss in cinnamon sticks and cloves, add the brandy if using, and bring up to a simmer. Simmer on low heat for 40-60 minutes, keep adding apple juice whenever the liquid level reduces to a low level. At the end of the cooking you should have a medium thick syrup left over with the pears (somewhere around the consistency of good maple syrup). Remove the whole spices (biting into cloves is nasty). Add the cinnamon and sweetner to the yogurt and give it a good stir. Put two pear quarters into each individual serving dish. Portion out the remaining syrup so that everyone gets a little in their bowls. Top with a big spoonful of the yogurt mixture and garnish with a sprig of mint, or a cute little edible flower, or a bit of orange zest or another dash of cinnamon (completely optional, just for visual effect).

This is really tasty, the ingredients are cheap and it is very simple to prepare, just don't let the syrup reduce too much and burn. It also smells really good so your guests will be eagerly awaiting it by the time dessert rolls around.

the best lamb stew EVER

I hope I can remember everything that went into this, because it was really, really good.

1 large zucchini
2 tomatoes
3 small carrots
1 small butternut squash
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & pepper

1 small onion
splash olive oil
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup flour
1.5 lbs lamb stewing meat, in 1.5" square cubes or so
1/2 cup barley
3 smallish cloves garlic
handful raisins or other dried fruit
1 tsp or so lemon zest
2 tbsp duqqa spice blend (cumin, coriander seed, pepper, cayenne, almonds & sesame seeds)
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups broth or stock (chicken or veal)
1 cup water (or more as necessary)

This looks like a bit of a production but it didn't actually take too long.

Cut the veggies up into bite-sized cubes, toss in the balsamic, olive oil, salt & pepper, throw on a roasting tray and stick in a 375F oven for half an hour or until the squash is soft, then just leave in the oven to keep warm until it's time to put them in the stew.

While the veggies are roasting, finely dice the onion. Next, combine the cumin, salt, pepper and flour in a large bowl and toss your lamb cubes in it to coat them thoroughly. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large stew pot. Toss your lamb in (in batches if it's going to be more than one layer on the bottom) and brown it. When it's looking mostly brownish, toss in the onions, duqqa and barley. When things start sticking to the bottom and going really brown and toasty, deglaze the pot with the wine. The liquid will thicken up very quickly because of the flour so don't be alarmed. Add the stock, water as you think you need it, and the lemon zest, garlic and dried fruit. Simmer until the lamb is tender, probably 40-45 minutes, then add the roasted veg. Cook another 5 minutes, adjust the seasoning, and serve with multigrain bread.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

glad I'm not the only one

We went to our friends Peter & Lara's for dinner last night - I have to get the asparagus recipe from Peter because it was wonderful - apparently it was supposed to be cabbage, but he didn't have any, and asparagus turned out to be an inspired substitution.

Anyway, despite having absolutely no reason to be concerned about her weight, Lara keeps this incredibly old (like, pre-1970's) bathroom scale because, as she says, she likes what it tells her. And she knows it's at least 5 pounds off - she wasn't a bit surprised when I weighed myself, after dinner, wearing all my clothes, and weighed exactly the same as I do on my scale, starkers before breakfast.

I just think that's funny, in a bizarre sociological kind of way. Why are we soooo hung up on weight that we will keep a 40-year old scale precisely because it is inaccurate? Even if, like Lara, you're a distance-running athlete with probably less than 20% body fat?