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Samosa Pie

The other night I was in a particularly crave-y mood. I wanted meat and potatoes meets spice. I happened to remember these Wholly Wholesome pie crusts I picked up from Whole Foods and the samosa pie was born.

When I was preparing it it felt totally wrong, like a terrible bastardization of traditional cuisine. It was going to be a dirty little secret. No one needed to know. Then we ate it and it blew me away. Maybe it’s because I was so hungry and crave-y..but maybe not because it tasted just as mind-blowing the next day.

If you think about it it’s not to different from a samosa, the pastry is just arranged a little differently. Maybe I’m rationalizing but you have to try it. Not only is it super tasty but it was so easy to prepare.

Samosa Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 lb grassfed beef (this is just what I used - you can of course use conventional)
  • 1 medium sized potato diced into very small cubes
  • 1/4 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 small red onion diced
  • 1 cm or 1/2 inch knob of ginger finely diced or mashed (optional - I forgot to do this but I think it would have made it better)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional - I grabbed the curry powder instead of the turmeric so ended up with both.)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (optional but recommended - the seeds add so much dimension)
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • cayenne to taste
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Take pie shell out to defrost.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F / 220 C
  3. Dice the potato and put it to boil in a pan with enough water to just cover it, that way when the potatoes are boiled you can pour the whole contents of the pot into the beef mixture. The starchy potato water will thicken into a gravy.
  4. Sauté the onion with the cumin seeds (if using) on very low heat until softened and aromatic.
  5. Increase heat to medium and add the beef. Break it apart as it cooks so it's smooth and even.
  6. When the beef is evenly broken apart add the potatoes with potato water and the peas.
  7. Cook just until any remaining liquid has reduced into a nice thick gravy.
  8. Pour contents of pan into pie shell. For me the recipe was enough to fit into one pie shell. I also put my pie shell onto a cookie sheet before filling to make it easier to move into the oven.
  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes until edges are slightly golden.
  10. If you can wait (unlike those of us with no impulse control) give it about 10-15 minutes rest before cutting in or the beef filling will ooze out everywhere and you won't be able to cut pie like pieces out of it.

Handmade Macaroni From Scratch

Last week Bogdan and I went to Town Tavern in Royal Oak because Four Square told us the lobster mac and cheese was “to die for.” It was not.

For the most part it was okay. The lobster was cooked well, the macaroni was slightly overdone but acceptable, the sauce could have been creamier. It would have been okay overall (like 6.5 out of 10 maybe?) but the ritz cracker crust was burnt. I don’t mean browned, I mean charred. Seemed to be a theme since the truffle fries we ordered were also covered in burnt garlic, which as far as I know is a big culinary no-no.

We definitely had high expectations not only based on the Four Square reviews, but also based on the cost. At $17 for a small plate of mac and cheese it better be to die for.

Anyway, the point is that after that experience I decided I would make my own mac and cheese from scratch. It’s a longstanding fascination of mine to taste the most scratch-made versions of anything and everything. I especially love making super indulgent guilty pleasures from scratch. They can only get better, right?

When it comes to mac and cheese this means the best cheddar I can find, pure cream, and most importantly homemade macaroni.

The Origins of Macaroni

Have you ever thought about where macaroni originated? Since I started making pasta more often I’ve gained an appreciation for how certain pasta shapes must have developed. For example, I’ll never forget the first time I used the pasta machine and looking down at the long, thin uncut sheets of pasta it my hands it suddenly dawned on me that I was holding lasagna. It was a total revelation.

atlas mercato pasta machine

Lasagna is easy enough to understand, as is spaghetti and fettuccini, but when you consider more elaborate pasta shapes things start to get murkier.

Macaroni isn’t an obvious shape like lasagna or spaghetti. When I decided to make homemade macaroni it occurred to me that I had no idea how to do so. I scoured the internet and YouTube for help. I don’t have an extruder like this so that was out of the question. Luckily, Wikihow came to the rescue.

I don’t know if macaroni emerged spontaneously, the creative ambition of a bored Italian housewife somewhere, or if it came about with the invention of industrial extruders. Whatever the case, making macaroni by hand feels very old world and very traditional.

Macaroni Technique

The method I used was similar to the one described in the Wikihow post.  I made a double batch of my Go-To Pasta Recipe, rolled it out into thin sheets then cut into small roughly 2cm/1inch squares and used a bamboo skewer to roll them into little tubes.

On the one hand, it was tedious and it took a very long time to finish a bowl of macaroni. On the other, it was beautiful. Once I got the technique it was all muscle memory, like knitting. Knitting perfect little pasta jewels that we then got to eat.

Like all fresh pasta boil for up to 3 minutes for al dente. Do not bake in too much cream in the oven for an hour because you will regret wasting so much effort.

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Seeking Fridge Zen

I recently saw a very interesting Vox video on food waste aptly called Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem.  Food waste is a really big problem. According to this video it’s such a big problem that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after China and the United States respectively.

In the US roughly 40% of the food we produce never gets eaten. Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem

Overconsumption

Over the last year or so I’ve been delving more deeply into minimalism and of course I’ve also been applying (or trying my best to apply) the principles to my kitchen.

I think overconsumption is a very big problem in North America. As a society we tend to buy too much, eat too much, and keep too much stuff. Combine that with a very busy and constantly on-the-go mentality and before you know it you don’t even know what you have and every space is full to the brim with stuff.

I also think it’s more than an environmental problem or an issue of overconsumption. Too much stuff also clutters our minds. At least that’s been my experience. I’ve found a lot of clarity from cutting down on the stuff in my life but it’s a process and sometimes it’s a big challenge.

Minimalism in the Kitchen

Once of the things we found in our research is that people are uncomfortable with white space when it comes to food. So we love it in buildings or design, but when it comes to food we do not want to see empty space in our refrigerators on our plates, and so I really believe that in some subliminal way we’re just filling everything and if we just had smaller refrigerators that let us see everything that was in there that in itself would lead to less waste in our homes. Dana Gunter, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defence Council

I won’t even get into the rest of the house (save that for another post I promise) but trying to cut down on waste and excess stuff in my kitchen has been a months long project that I’m not sure I’m actually making any headway on.

I try to clean the fridge at minimum every 3 weeks. I usually take everything out, wipe down the inside, wash the drawers if necessary, then wipe down each individual item before putting it back in. It gives me a chance to take stock of what’s in there and plan on ways to use it.

Still, it’s not enough. It’s starting to feel like a constant uphill battle because as soon as I’ve cleaned the fridge, things start to accumulate once again.

I’ve tried to think of strategies to deal with this, including:

  • Make a plan to use everything that’s in there and get back to “white space.”
  • Put a chart on the fridge detailing what’s in there.
  • Don’t buy anything until I have white space.

Sharing My Fridge Shame Challenge

A few weeks ago after seeing this Vox video I came up with an idea to do something more dramatic. I decided to take every single thing out of my fridge at the same time, put it all on the table and take pictures of it.

I thought it would be a good way to really illustrate the point and more than that, I thought it would be a good way to feel the gravity of it. What better way to get a handle on your food waste than by admitting to the world that you have a problem, right?

I’m embarrassed by this. I’m embarrassed because it shows a total disregard for the food. My dear grandmother in rural Romania who still grows most of her own food at 80 years old with her hobbled and nerve damaged hands would be shocked to see so much perfectly good food rotting away in the back of the fridge.

Smaller Fridge = Less Food Waste?

Part of the reason why we overbuy food is that we’ve got tons of space to store it in. Refrigerators have grown about 15% since the 1970s. Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem

It’s a very appealing theory and really plays into my love of the European approach to food policy but if I put my own feelings aside the argument falls apart.

It’s not about size

I don’t agree with the argument that fridge size contributes to food waste. Manufacturers make fridges in response to consumer demands. Making fridges smaller wouldn’t change people’s habits and in fact, I’m sure most places sell so called “euro style” fridges that are smaller…but how many people buy them?

If we made fridges smaller the problem of food waste wouldn’t be eliminated because it isn’t the size of the fridge but the mentality surrounding it’s use that leads to food waste.

One of the main premises in the video that really struck me is that there’s some research which suggests that we consider food more valuable before we put it into our fridges.

I thought about this a lot and I have to agree. I think part of the problem is that when food is displayed in a market it’s done with the intent to show it off. It makes us see the food and think about all the things we could do with it. It looks beautiful.

When we get home we put it in our probably cluttered fridges and then we forget we even have it.

For example, the other day I found this fig balsamic in my fridge that I had forgotten I even purchased. What makes it worse is that I debated about whether to even buy it since it was on the pricier end. At least it isn’t as perishable as produce, which I’ve sadly forgotten about way too much.

Rethinking Fridge Use

Rather than focusing on the size of the fridge my approach is to think about how it’s used. I’ve started experimenting with this concept of fridge zen, which to me just means storing food in the fridge the way it’s displayed in a grocery store. It makes it look beautiful and makes me want to use all the produce on display, the way I do in the grocery store. I get inspired just opening the fridge.

The strategy isn’t perfect by far. When I first implemented it (as shown in these pictures) my approach was to put non-perishables away in the drawers, since they don’t go bad, and to bring perishable things right out into view so I’m more likely to remember and use them while they’re at the peak of freshness.

Right away I can see that the greens on the top shelf is a problem, since it’s coldest up there and they’re more delicate than other types of produce.

Still Seeking Fridge Zen

These pictures were taken back in December. I was so proud of my fridge zen. It made cooking so much more enjoyable to have everything beautifully displayed, like my own personal grocery store. I think fridge zen is a lot of what inspired my super mindful approach to cooking in Butter Chicken With Love.

Beyond the aesthetic and experiential benefits, I think if we changed our mentality surrounding food a bit by honouring the food rather than just shoving it into a cluttered fridge it would go a long way towards curbing food waste.

The Struggle

I can’t say it lasted long. Life got busy again and the clutter started to creep back in.The same thing happens around the house. I have a theory that if you don’t get rid of all the clutter it spawns and spreads like it’s alive.

If my minimalism learning process has taught me anything it’s that it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a learning process in the truest sense. Sometimes it sticks, other times you take one step back for every two steps forward.

I got in with a grocery haul not long ago and I’m about to tackle the fridge again. I’ve wanted to get back to all-out fridge zen for a while but between going to Spain and preparing for our move to Amsterdam there just hasn’t been a moment until now.

So, all this to say that I’m going to keep seeking fridge zen even if it’s an uphill battle and I’m going to document my struggles here.

The benefits I felt during that brief time when I had it were worth the effort and ultimately we can’t expect to reprogram a lifetime of learned habits in a few months. It takes time to develop a new system and stick to it. It’s like a diet for your fridge.

Ps. If you’d like to share your fridge related struggles and successes with me on Instagram use #seekingfridgezen and tag me @ms.cristina.

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The Perfect Pasta Dough Recipe

Pasta is one of those fundamental “from scratch” things that can seriously impress your dinner guests and also totally change the game on what you thought you knew. Once you’ve had fresh homemade pasta, it’s really hard to even call that stuff you buy in boxes pasta anymore.

I learned to make pasta the way I learned to make bread, which is to say with a few bumps in the beginning. My first bread was like a hard little football shaped rock. My first time making pasta it was similarly hard, which was all the more difficult since I didn’t have a pasta machine back then and so it needed to be (laboriously) rolled out the old fashioned way. The final cooked pasta wasn’t much better.

Somehow with both bread and pasta it was only the first time that was a disaster. Every time after was not only passable but definitely edible and quite good in fact.

The first pasta recipe I got to know and like was Giada’s recipe found on Food Network.

It’s a good recipe and turned out some very good pasta quite a few times. The only hang up I had with it is that it’s measurements are given in volume rather than by weight, which I think is important especially in the early stages of learning the fundamentals like bread and pasta.

If you don’t have a kitchen scale then it’s still a good starting place but if you want to really get into the finer points of pasta (or bread) then in my humble opinion a kitchen scale is essential to the learning process.

When I got my pasta maker a few weeks ago I decided to look for a more precise recipe so I could control and understand the process a little better. I am forever grateful to the lovely people at seriouseats.com who put together this super comprehensive guide to fresh pasta making, which takes into account so many variables like egg or no egg and water or no water.

The results of their intensive research and great documentation is this beautiful and foolproof go to pasta recipe.


Fresh Pasta Go-To Recipe

Ingredients

2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg for every 5 oz (141 grams) of flour. No water.


Isn’t that just a thing of beauty? That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Each time I’ve made this I doubled the recipe, which made enough pasta for 3-4 very generous servings.

Special Equipment

Kitchen scale (optional but highly recommended) – substitute volumetric recipe like the one above)

Pasta rolling machine (optional but recommended) – substitute rolling pin.

As I mentioned above a kitchen scale is not essential but very good to have when learning about the nuances of pasta and bread. Likewise, a pasta machine isn’t absolutely necessary and can easily be substituted for a rolling pin but I think it produces much better results with less effort. More on the pasta machine below.

Simple Ingredients & Good Technique

Italian and French cuisine are characterized in part by their very simple preparations executed with utmost attention to detail. So of course the first step to good pasta is good flour and good eggs. What’s also important is good technique, which can be summarized mostly as a bit of patience.

Mixing the Flour & Eggs

Most recipes ask that you make a little mountain of flour with a hollow in the middle where the eggs are placed.  A fork is then used to mix the eggs, pulling flour in slowly as you go.

I’ve done it this way on a marble pastry board (as shown above) but I’ve also done it just in a bowl (which makes for easier clean up) and honestly it comes out virtually the same as far as I can tell.

No Water

The recipe I followed is very clear on the point of no water. Unless your dough is so dry that you’ve been kneading it together for 3-5 minutes and it’s still a pile of bits then you shouldn’t add water.

I haven’t had a problem so far. It may not seem like enough but the amount of liquid in the eggs is enough to hydrate the flour.

Salt

Whether you add salt to the pasta dough is up to you. I’ve done it both ways (with or without salt in the dough) and it seems indistinguishable since the pasta is boiled in salted water.

Other Additions

Added at the mixing stage

Juices: I’m planning to make some coloured ravioli soon with the help of some beet juice, spinach juice, and maybe carrot juice. About a tbsp of strained liquid should be enough to colour the pasta without upsetting the liquid balance too much.

Spices & seasonings: Of course you can add any spice or seasoning that you like. Dried oregano comes to mind but I think it’s pretty flexible.

Added at the rolling stage

Basil: A few times I’ve added basil leaves during the rolling out process. I wish I had taken a photo. I will in the future. I think it gives the pasta a nice basil flavour and makes it look very pretty. The basil stretches a lot during the rolling and by the end you have very large green leaf motifs.

I usually add it just after the first setting (so around 1) but you could also add it at a later stage in the process (maybe at 5 or 6) for smaller basil motifs and see how that works. More on rolling out below.

Resting the Dough

After the initial mixing pasta dough (like bread dough) likes to rest covered so it doesn’t dry. I like to cover mine with a layer of plastic wrap and then a cloth. There’s nothing worse for dough than it drying out before you’ve had a chance to use it.

The resting period is so that the flour can fully hydrate (which aids gluten formation) and also so the dough has a chance to soften, which gives it that beautiful spring and body. If you try to roll out pasta dough too soon after mixing, it will snap and break because it doesn’t have sufficient elasticity. About 20 minutes should do it.

Rolling out the Dough

Before when I would make pasta without my pasta roller I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin. I found this to be very physically demanding, so much that I didn’t want to make pasta too often. It’s possible I wasn’t letting the dough rest sufficiently and I will have to try one day to see.

A more important point may be that the roller makes the dough much thinner than I’ve ever made any dough, from pie to empanada to roti and of course pasta.

Side Note: Short vs Hard Dough

Doughs can be hard (i.e. with gluten) which makes lovely elastic doughs like pasta or wonton, or they can be short (i.e. ideally no gluten development) which makes crumbly and tender pie crusts and tart shells. For pasta we want the gluten, but the gluten also fights back.


Pasta Rollers vs Rolling Pin

I very much recommend a pasta roller if you can afford the cost and the space in your home and plan to make pasta often. The one I bought is the Atlas Mercato 150mm manual crank machine.

I read some reviews before buying which suggested it was the best one but since I’ve had it I’ve noticed it literally everywhere. It seems to be the roller of choice for bloggers and chefs alike. It’s also the machine seriouseats.com used in their pasta experiments.

Every time I see this I’m more convinced I made the right choice without even having all the information. So lucky.

Laminating the Dough

After the dough has a chance to rest you can begin working on it by cutting it into pieces to be fed into the pasta roller on the widest setting. You should do this at least 2-3 times per piece of dough (though some suggest up to 10), folding it and returning it into the roller on the widest setting each time.

This process is called laminating and it helps gluten formation which makes for better pasta texture.

When you’ve finished laminating a piece of dough I recommend putting it under a cloth again while you work on the rest so that it doesn’t dry. It’s best not to put the pieces on top of each other or they will stick together. These are best practices that I don’t always follow myself (to save time and space) so I work quickly to prevent drying and gently pull the pieces apart if they’ve stuck together. The choice is yours. Definitely don’t do this with thinner dough because it’s too fragile to pull apart.

If your flour and egg didn’t mix quite enough you may notice dry pieces, chunks or uneven texture when you first cut the dough. Usually this can be remedied by a thorough lamination process. If my dough is dry and uneven I laminate up to 6 times and it usually does the trick.

Rolling out the Dough

Once you’ve laminated the dough start again from the first piece feeding it through the machine from widest setting (0) to thinnest setting (9). Sometimes I skip a few of the steps, which I think makes the dough crimp weirdly. It’s never caused a big problem but the choice is yours how to proceed through the steps. Definitely more patience makes better texture.

Since the dough dries so fast (especially when it’s rolled out) what I like to do is to roll out each piece all the way from thickest to thinnest, then shape it or cut it into my desired form, and put it properly to dry before I move on to the next piece of dough.

That’s just my process to deal with fast drying dough. You may find one that suits you better.

Shaping & Cutting the Dough

The Mercato machine has 2 cutting attachments that make fettuccini and spaghetti. I’ve made both and I think the spaghetti is slightly harder to work with but also my favourite as it soaks up so much sauce and has such a hearty mouth feel.

You can also make different kinds of pasta once the dough is rolled out. You could cut it into 1 inch strips for pappardelle, or into bigger pieces for lasagna, or even into tiny squares for macaroni (see Handmade Macaroni From Scratch.) I think I’ll need to write a whole post just about pasta shapes. Coming soon I promise.

Drying the Dough

The little baskets I made from the fettuccini in the feature image for this post look very cute but I’m not sure it’s the most practical solution. When the dough dries in this shape it can adhere together, which makes for clumpy stuck together pasta once it’s cooked.

When I made these cute little fettuccini baskets I ended up re-rolling all the pasta I had rolled and cut because it was sticking together so badly. I know a lot of very professional chefs do it this way and maybe with a good dusting of flour it won’t stick but in my experience this is probably a pro move not the best for beginners.

My favourite way to dry pasta is either on the edge of a large bowl as shown below or otherwise on the back of a chair (only if I’m cooking it right away since it’s a vulnerable spot for our hungry dog and stray elbows.)

When I posted this on Instagram I got a few suggestions:

  • A friend’s Italian grandmother dries her pasta on a cloth hanging off the edge of a table.
  • Another friend dries hers on a broomstick suspended between two chairs.

Cooking the Pasta

Fresh pasta cooks in boiling water very quickly. Depending on the shape about 3 minutes should be enough for perfectly al dente pasta. I recently heard a chef on Chopped say that fresh pasta cooks in 45 seconds, but that hasn’t been my experience. Ultimate test is the taste test.

Shown here is fettuccini in a simple homemade alfredo sauce with seared scallops. This was our very first pasta after buying the pasta machine.

I hope I haven’t missed anything and that this has been helpful. Please comment with any questions below.

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10 Days in Toronto

DSCF2142-1We just got back from a 10 day trip to Toronto. It’s been almost 5 years since I left for law school. I miss Toronto intensely. I miss the familiarity and the diversity. I miss the culture and the energy and the sense of being in the thick of it. Probably most of all I miss casually connecting with family and friends without having to plan in advance. When I’m visiting I can’t help but want to move back.

With a trans-atlantic move looming in the back of my mind during this most recent trip I found myself grappling with a major dilemma. Where are we going to go? Should we just move back to Toronto? 

Bogdan and I have wanted to make a move for a while. There are a lot of things we love about Michigan. We so easily  connected with a lot of people here who welcomed us and accepted us in every way no questions asked. There’s a kindness here that’s unexpected. People in Toronto always seem to be in such a rush, which can make them sometimes come off as curt and insincere. It’s a major contrast to Midwesterners, who always seem to be in a cheerful mood.

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Wedding at the Casa Loma Conservatory | June 3rd 2017

The slower pace is also a big draw. After 5 years away from Toronto I just can’t handle the traffic anymore. Driving on the always congested 401 gives me major anxiety. This past week I even started to question the wisdom of a stick shift, something I never thought would happen. Coming back home and getting back into our routines this week I realize how much the frenetic pace of Toronto got into me. I came back still feeling rushed and impatient. Driving around, running errands, and basically doing daily life is just so much easier here.

Still, I don’t think we’ve ever been set on staying here. In a lot of ways moving abroad is one of the things we connected over when we started dating 8 years ago. It’s a shared dream and one that I think we need to fulfill if not for the experience itself then definitely for less tangible reasons…mostly so we aren’t left wondering “what if?”

When I was younger the decision to move abroad was automatic, almost reflexive. Now as I’m getting older and starting to appreciate the benefits of routine, the prospect of moving is making me a bit nervous. When we moved to Michigan I never expected culture shock. I had crossed the border into both Michigan and Buffalo countless times. It always seemed more or less like Canada to me. After living here I can see how different it is in so many subtle ways.

So the decision to move isn’t one taken lightly. I can’t help but wonder what sort of shock we’re in for. That’s why part of me just wants to move back to Toronto. It would just be so much easier. To go back. To be close. And there are so many dear friends and family members encouraging us to choose that option.

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In front of the school where we met in the second grade | June 4th 2017

But when I got back to Michigan and felt the rush melt away, I realized that Toronto isn’t a golden horizon, and wouldn’t really be easier. Between the housing market, the traffic, and the rush that gets under your skin, it makes it just a little less heartbreaking to be away.

Plus, you can’t go back in time. When you’ve spent a lot of time in different places your memories don’t just exist in time but also in place. You might get the false impression that going back to the place will also bring back the time. So much of what I love about Toronto is my memories there. It’s the same nostalgia that makes me miss Romania so much every spring that I feel like I can’t breathe. It’s so much easier to stay in one spot. To avoid the rips and oceans that break families into pieces. But going back doesn’t heal the loss. Going back doesn’t turn back the clock. Going back doesn’t give you back years spent with an ocean between you and the people you love deeply while hardly knowing.

In so many ways immigrating has been a defining feature of my life, both as a child and now as an adult. I’ve lived in two worlds and now find myself in a third while mentally preparing to take a step into a fourth. Every move leaves a piece of me behind in another time and place. But every move also opens a new world. A new perspective. More people and places to love. It’s the ultimate gift for which you pay the ultimate price. In some ways moving forward is the only way to forget, even if temporarily, the loss and unrelenting jet stream of time.

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In the background behind the fence is the building my family lived in when Bogdan and I first met. The whole area is being redeveloped and sort of absorbed into Toronto proper. It’s making me think a whole lot about gentrification. | Lakeshore Blvd West & Parklawn June 10th 2017

So as the unofficial deadline we set for ourselves approaches I’m starting to feel more rattled than ever. Over the next few weeks I’ll be beefing up my portfolio, sending out applications, and starting the process of condensing the three-story life we’ve built here into a couple boxes and suitcases. I need more content for my portfolio and also happen to have a lot of pantry odds and ends that need to be used before we leave, so there’s probably going to be some weird stuff coming.

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Butter Chicken With Love

I followed the NY Times Butter Chicken recipe by Tom Sifton, which can be found here. I tried not to deviate from the recipe too much. Making it was a pleasure from start to finish. The strong and subtle aromas wafting out of the kitchen were reward in themselves. The taste was what I expected but much more. Homemade butter chicken can have noticeably more complex flavours than take out if you cook with patience and love.

We are so rushed in our daily lives. For many of us, cooking has become a chore that we try to hurry through. When you cook in the moment the process of cooking becomes a pleasure and the final result will show that you’ve taken your time. It isn’t a hyperbole to say that the secret ingredient in this dish is love.

I like the layout of the recipe itself as well. The side by side ingredients and steps make it easier to follow. I also really appreciate that the ingredients are listed in order of appearance, and not in order of grocery category (i.e. dairy, produce, meat etc).

A note on chicken. Probably the most important step in this recipe is cutting the chicken into nice looking, even sized cubes…or something approximating a cube. Doing this may take a little longer than you’re prepared to invest  but it will pay off.

Obviously, start with fresh ingredients. There’s a crucial step between grocery store and cooking that needs attention: your fridge. Keeping a clean and well organized fridge keeps your food fresher for longer. Foods stored in the fridge take on each others smells. If your fridge smells bad, everything in it will smell bad if you really pay attention.

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Which brings me to another crucial point: smell. Smell your garlic. Slow down and really get in there. Smell it with the peel on, smell it with the peel off. Smell everything. Get intimately acquainted with your food. When you treat the ingredients patiently and with high regard, they will shine in the final dish.

I try to always start with whole spices. The smell of freshly ground whole spices is a totally different world from even the freshest pre-ground spices. If you don’t believe me, crush some cumin or coriander and smell. They have so much more dimension and depth.

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I used a marble mortar and pestle. Cumin is particularly hard to crush and I have to admit I lost my patience a little bit with this step. Still, I resisted the temptation to pull out my magic bullet and pulverize these seeds into oblivion because I knew that not only would it change the flavour of the cumin, it would also show disregard for the process.

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It was worth it, if only for these pictures alone. There’s something timeless and universal about crushing spices. The smell, of course, is transcendent but its also the connection with the cooking. The feeling that you’re doing something that human hands across the world have done for probably millennia.

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Take your time cutting the onion, even if it stings your eyes. My method is to cut in half, then cut evenly spaces lines into each half, rotate 90 degrees and repeat.  Be mindful and totally in tune with your knife blade, cutting precise and even lines. Use your senses. Listen to the subtle sounds of knife through onion.

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I think the recipe called for fresh but this was all I had. I crushed two of them by hand and set aside. I didn’t wash my hands and then I touched my face. Be careful.

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Unlike the recipe calls for, I added the cumin seeds to the ghee first as is common in many Indian recipes (I think they call it blooming the spices.) I heated them until they started lightly popping, and then I added the diced onion. The smell was…like nothing else I’ve ever smelled in my kitchen before.

You can serve with plain basmati or add a little bit of subtle flavour, like a tsp of turmeric and the seeds of two cardamom pods. The cardamom seeds should be shiny and very dark, not grey or ashen looking. For the basmati, add 1 cup of rice and 2.5 cups of water to a pan along with a sprinkle of salt and any flavourings you’re adding. Stir lightly. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium-low until the water level has reached the rice. Cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave undisturbed until ready to serve. Don’t uncover.

I used ghee and almond oil to cook the chicken. I had frozen homemade chicken stock that I added to deglaze. I cooked the chicken in two batches, adding the finishes first batch to the pot of sauce and then when the second batch was ready I poured the contents of the sauce pot back into the cast iron skillet. I simmered lightly for another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Goan Coconut Curry & Butternut Squash Soup with Langostino Tails

I spent a lot of my formative years in Toronto, where I gained an appreciation for diversity that’s had an enduring impact on me. Toronto is a mecca of multiculturalism. You can find food from all over the world in various parts of the city: Greek town on Danforth, Korean in K-town, Little Italy and Corso Italia on College and St. Clair, Portugal Village at Dundas West, Japanese & Hungarian in the Annex, Polish in Roncesvalles, Latin American in Kensington Market, all kinds of Caribbean all over the place, at least two Little Indias and about six Chinatowns. What a mouthful…but that’s not all. Toronto is also a haven for regional cuisine. Toronto’s ethnic communities are really proud of their regional diversity and the city certainly encourages diversity to flourish. So if you wanted, say, SicilianAssamese, or Hunan cuisine, you could find it.

Beyond an appreciation for the international (which I have in excess at times) Toronto also imparted an appreciation for regional diversity. When I was growing up I met a lot of South Asians but very few of them were Goan. The Goans I did meet were really proud of being Goan and I always felt like they had an aura of uniqueness around them. That brings me to this meal. One of my goals with Cristina’s Kitchen is to learn about different cultures through food and of course, I especially like delving into the nuances of regional cuisine.

You can learn a lot about the different geographical and cultural influences of a culture just by looking at ingredients. For example, Goan cuisine is characterized by a lot of coconut fish curries, due to the fact that it’s in a coastal area, but what’s more interesting is that it also has significant Portuguese influence from 400 years of colonialism. There are Goan/Portuguese samosas (chamuças), chorizo (chouriço), and feijoada.

P1140498The spices used in Goan cuisine are in different proportions from other curries. There’s much more of a focus on coriander and cumin. The spice paste is fairly simple overall, especially in comparison to others I’ve made (like Indonesian Beef Rendang – that was super complex). It’s onion, garlic, ginger, chilies and ground turmeric plus toasted and ground coriander and cumin. Simple no? The toasting and grinding of your own spices may seem tedious and unnecessary but I promise it makes a difference…and the smell of fresh ground coriander is a life experience in and of itself. P1140494For this recipe I adapted the spice blends used in two recipes for Goan Fish Curry and Goan Fish Stew. Granted, the use of butternut squash may not be authentic but the seasoning is close. All I did was sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger along with the butternut squash. Once it was aromatic I added the chili, toasted and ground dry spices and turmeric and then blended with coconut milk in a food processor. I didn’t have dried Kashmiri chilies per the recipes I used for reference so I substituted sweet paprika not cayenne because they’re meant to add flavour rather than heat. I also didn’t have fresh green chilies so I sprinkled in some cayenne at the end to get the spice level to where I wanted.

P1140536I added 350 grams / 12 oz of cooked langostino tails (from Trader Joe’s) for protein because that’s what I had but you can substitute with shrimp or even veggies. You can also up the amount of langostino or shrimp to 450 grams / 1 lb.

Overall it’s really simple and definitely doable on a weeknight. The butternut squash and coconut milk base with langostino tails make for a tasty, nutritious, and hearty meal that also looks really lovely and feels very sophisticated. I like to think of it as a fall inspired take on traditional Goan cuisine.  More than that, making Goan food made me feel like I’d been let in on a secret…on the reason for that aura of uniqueness and pride amongst the Goans I’ve met. Few things compare to the feeling of getting closer to another culture by making their food. That was definitely the best part of this meal.

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Ingredients

1 large butternut squash, cooked and cubed

1-2 TBSP coconut oil or ghee for cooking

1 medium red onion, finely diced

4 cloves of garlic, mashed or minced

2 inch (5cm) piece of ginger, mashed or minced

4 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

4 dried kashmiri chilies or substitute 1 TBSP sweet paprika

1 can natural unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups of water

1 green chilli, finely diced (or substitute ground cayenne to taste)

Salt to taste

350 – 450 grams / 12 – 16 oz cooked langostino tails (or substitute same amount of cooked shrimp)

2 TBSP chopped cilantro + more for garnish

Method

 Bake butternut squash. I baked mine whole at 400 F / 200 C for about 45 minutes. You can peel, seed and before or after baking – it’s up to you. Also, this step can be done the day before or way in advance and frozen if you’re a meal prep aficionado.

Heat oil or ghee in a skillet on medium-high heat.

Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until aromatic and soft – about 8 minutes. Increase heat, add butternut squash and continue sautéing another 5 minutes or so to develop the flavours.

While sautéing, start another smaller skillet on medium heat and add the dried chilies (if using) and the coriander and cumin seeds. Heat gently for about 5 minutes or until aromatic. Grind in a mill or with a mortar and pestle.

Add the ground seeds, dried chilies (or paprika), turmeric, and coconut milk to the skillet and mix.

Pour all ingredients into food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Return soup to a pot over medium-high heat. Add two cups of water and mix until incorporated.

Add the green chilies (or cayenne) as well as salt to your taste. I used about 2 tsp each of cayenne and salt.

Add cooked langostino tails (or shrimp) and cilantro. Mix, head tot your preference, then serve garnished with more cilantro.

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Spicy Heirloom Carrot Thai Salad

Back in May we ordered four thai bird chili seedlings on Amazon.  A few weeks later we received a USPS box stuffed with styrofoam squiggles and four tiny plants that could fit in the palm of my hand. They were so small and frail looking we weren’t sure we’d be able to keep them alive.

Not only did they survive, but they got huge! They even made it through our month long trip to Asia totally unattended on our balcony. They’re surprisingly hearty little plants…and so so spicy.

So now we have four giant Thai chili plants that provide more chilis than we know what to do with. I’m always trying to think of ways to incorporate them into our meals.

P1140487This past weekend we picked up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and carrots from the farmers market. The tomatoes became a Heirloom Tomato Tart with Gruyère & Thyme. I wanted to do something with the carrots that would keep them front and centre while also highlighting their beautiful colours. A soup would have blended all the colours together and roasting seemed sort of boring.

I was picturing beautiful ribbons or spirals of carrot but wasn’t sure what would go with them. To cook or not to cook? I decided to leave them raw in all their natural glory in a spicy Thai peanut dressing made with none other than our abundant chili harvest.

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I used a veggie spiralizer for the carrots. You could also use a vegetable peeler and run it down the carrots to make ribbons. I think that might work better because the spiralizer doesn’t do very well with smaller narrower vegetables so it wasn’t able to get through a lot of the carrot. My vegetable peeler has a serrated blade (for some reason) which would have created a ridged effect on the carrot ribbons that I didn’t really want. I also tried using a mandolin but that made very straight julienne like carrots, rather than curly spirals. So, your best bet is a vegetable peeler or a veggie spiralizer if you don’t mind some carrot by-product. I’m going to roast the remaining carrot later today and make a curry soup.

I probably used 6-8 chilis for about 2 servings. I removed the stems, sliced them thinly and removed the seeds to reduce the spice while keeping the flavour. Between spiralling, slicing, and making the dressing the whole dish took less than 20 minutes. It made a great lunch but would be good for dinner too with some protein on top. Also, simply omit the sugar to make it paleo. Peanuts are apparently not paleo and I don’t think this would be much of a dressing without them so turns out the sugar isn’t the only problem….apologies paleo eaters!

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Ingredients

450 grams / 1 lb spiralized/ribboned/julienned heirloom carrots

6-8 Thai bird chilis, sliced and seeded

2 TBSP peanut butter

1 TBSP palm sugar or brown sugar

Juice of one lime

1 TBSP fish sauce

1 clove garlic (mashed)

1 cm cube of fresh ginger (mashed)

3-4 TBSP hot water

2 TBSP fresh chopped cilantro

Fresh slices lime, chopped cilantro and peanuts for garnish (optional)

 

Method

Spiralize carrots with a veggie spiralizer or ribbon by running a vegetable peeler down them to create long strips. You can also julienne if you don’t have the other tools but it’s not ideal. Put the finished carrots in a bowl.

Slice and seed the chilis (or don’t – it’s up to you how much spice you like). Add to the bowl with the carrots.

In another smaller bowl combine the peanut butter, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, mashed garlic and ginger, and enough hot water to make them all blend together. For me it was 4 TBSP but do one at a time and see how it looks, you don’t want it to be watery.

Pour the sauce over the carrots, toss until coated. Sprinkle in cilantro and toss again. Garnish to your liking.

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Andouille Carbonara

We were at the farmers market asking around everywhere for chorizo. A few weeks earlier we attended a dinner to celebrate the engagement of two of our friends. They showed us a really neat Portuguese cooking method that involves setting alcohol on fire in a ceramic pig.

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How cool is that? As you can imagine I had to have one. I got the pig but the chorizo was no where to be found.   I asked everywhere but the closest thing I could find was andouille. I wasn’t sure if I would torch it (authenticity and all) but I knew I’d find something interesting to do with it in any case.

Carbonara is one of those things I crave every so often. What’s not to love about it? Creamy, cheesy, smoked cured meat….delicious. It was late on a lazy Saturday night and we had guests. We were all hungry for something comforting and rich. I was also hoping it would be easy and quick.

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I opened the fridge and stood there for a few minutes, thinking through the logistics of the different things I could make. I thought about pasta. I saw the andouille. That was that. The chives add a fresh counterpoint to the smokiness and flavour of the andouille. If you use andouille, look for a natural one without nitrites or preservatives like this andouille by Neto’s. You could use any sausage you have on hand like Spanish chorizo, Polish kabanosy, or even grassfed German Landjaeger. This makes about four average sized servings (or two enormous ones).

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Ingredients

4 servings spaghetti, fettuccine or other pasta of your choice

About 1/2 TBSP olive oil for sautéing

1/2 kg / 1 lb andouille (or other smoked sausage)

3 eggs

150 grams / 5.5 oz grated pecorino romano or parmigiano (you could also use gruyère in a pinch)

Salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Freshly cracked black pepper and chopped chives for garnish

 

Method

Boil pasta, al dente is preferable. The time depends on the type of pasta so check the package directions. Generously salt the water so it tastes like the ocean.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. While heating, cut the sausage into thin slices.

Pan fry the sausage until browned and crispy (or to your liking).

While sausage is frying, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk. Add the cheese and mix until incorporated.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain it reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the drained pasta in the skillet with the andouille and add the cooking liquid. Increase heat and agitate pan to keep things moving. You want to get it hot.

Once hot, remove from heat and pour into the egg mixture while whisking quickly and consistently until the eggs thicken. The residual heat from the pasta and sausage will cook the eggs. Pouring the hot ingredients over the eggs and working quickly will prevent scrambling the eggs. It should be salty enough from the pasta water and sausage but taste and adjust to your preferences.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper and chives.

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Spicy Double Chocolate Mexican Cookies

Around this time last year I made a few different kinds of cookies that Bogdan took to work. Honestly, these chill-chocolate cookies were included as sort of a last minute afterthought. Now, a year later, I had to really dig deep to remember the other types because the chocolate-chili Mexican cookies were by far the crowd favourite. You see those ones on the end? They’re cream cheese frosted pumpkin spice cookies. The ones on the other side are lemon & walnut shortbread. I still don’t get why the chili-chocolate were so much more popular!

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I’m noticing more and more lately that people won’t necessarily be impressed by whatever I think is most exciting. For example, a little while ago I posted my Harvest Biryani With Chickpeas, Dried Cranberries, and Pepitas and my Pumpkin Spice Steel Cut Oat Brûlée (again, as an afterthought) at the same time on Instagram (see my feed to the right!). I thought people would like the Harvest Biryani way more…the pictures were striking, it had much more going on and was (relatively) a bit more complex than the Oat Brûlée.

Wrong.

The Oat Brûlée was way more popular.

Back to a year ago. There were a few requests for this recipe at the time. One, in particular, was from one of Bogdan’s co-workers. Bogdan reminded me so.many.times.  The conditions just weren’t ever right: I was in exams, I didn’t have the right vanilla, or cocoa powder…it was summer and too hot to bake spicy chocolate cookies….

Finally, a whole year later, this post is dedicated to you, patient coworker. I’m sorry for delay but it had to be perfect!

I changed the recipe up a bit to make the cookies a little more moist. The chocolate is now inside of them instead of on top but you could easily drizzle more chocolate on top if you like. Also, I used white and bitter-sweet chocolate because it was what I had on hand. I think if I were to do this again I would try bitter-sweet and milk chocolate. Up to you how you do it. The white was really good too.

These cookies are really chocolatey and fudgey with enough spice to really make them pop. I also recently picked up some Vietnamese cinnamon from the girls at Dirty Girl Farm. It has a very bright and rich cinnamon flavour compared to conventional cinnamon. Makes a big difference. Definitely recommended if you can get your hands on some.Ingredients

115 grams / 4 oz / 8 TBSP (one stick) salted butter (softened)

64 grams / 2.25 oz / 1/2 cup granulated sugar

32 grams / 1.12 oz / 1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract (my go-to is vanilla bean paste)

1 egg

160 grams / 5.6 oz / 1 + 1/4 cups AP flour

1 tsp baking soda

32 grams / 2oz / 1/2 cup cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

90 grams / 3 oz / 1/2 cup each of white & bitter-sweet chocolate chips

1.5 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon (my favourite is Vietnamese cinnamon)

32 grams / 1 oz / 2 TBSP granulated sugar with 1/2 tsp cinnamon for edges (optional)

 

Method

In a large bowl cream together the softened butter and sugars until smooth.

Add egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt.

Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until incorporated.

Add the chocolate chips and mix.

The dough should be chilled before baking. I recommend taking out a sheet of plastic wrap, piling your dough on in a rough log shape and then fold over the plastic wrap and shape it into a nicer log. Place in freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.

Mix the cinnamon sugar to coat the edges on a plate and then remove the log from the freezer. Slice into 1 cm thick pieces and run the edges through the cinnamon sugar, then place on a parchment lined baking sheet. You can also cut the log first into larger pieces and run the entire thing over the cinnamon sugar and then cut into 1 cm thick segments. Up to you.

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Bake for about 10 minutes or until the centres of the cookies are still soft but not jiggly. The ideal amount of time for me is 10 minutes for fudgey soft cookies, but conditions can be different so keep an eye on them the first time you make them. If you prefer your cookies crisp bake an additional 2-3 minutes. I also like to bake a test cookie before baking all of them just to make sure it’s to my liking. You could start with less spice, bake a test cookie, and add more if you wanted. If you do bake a test cookie just remember that the cooking time will be different for one cookies versus an entire pan full. Reduce time by 1-2 minutes.

PS: Bogdan’s favourite joke now is that he has to put in requests for things a year in advance. Ha ha.

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Classic Tarte Tatin

I have a confession to make. This is my third time trying to make this tart. The first time it sort of fell apart. The second time it burned. I was so determined to make it and I’m still not really sure why. It seemed so chic and…classically French.

What makes a tarte tatin what it is is the process of cooking the apples underneath the pastry and then flipping it upside down…or right-side up. I gave up on the classic for a little while and tried my hand at potato leek with thyme. I got the hang of it!

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In order for it to work you need a buttered non-stick skillet (about 9 inches / 23 cm ) and precise cooking – see below. Once I knew how to make one type of tarte tatin, it was only a matter of trying my hand again at the classic. It’s really fun to make and the fact that you flip it upside down makes it a bit more forgiving as far as pastry skills go.I really prefer making my own pie dough. It tastes better and isn’t full of artificial fillers. Check the ingredients on any store bought dough you’re considering before buying. The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz bread flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

 

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it onto the apples then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, you’re going to use it to cover the apples. I used a 9 inch  23 cm non-stick skillet that was about 2 inches / 5 cm high. You’ll probably have some dough leftover if you use the same size…maybe make a hand pie? If you go larger, remember to also make more filling.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

5-6 medium sized baking apples like McIntosh or Gala

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 TBSP salted butter (melted) + a bit more to butter the pan

1 tsp cinnamon (I’m obsessed with Vietnamese cinnamon at the moment)

Dash of salt

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C with a rack in the upper 1/3.

Peel and core the apples then slice them into 1 cm wedges.

Toss them in a bowl with the sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt.

Arrange them in a buttered non-stick skillet in whatever way looks nice to you. I did a sort of swirl on the outside and another swirl going in the opposite direction on the inside.

Cover with the pie dough above or store bought. I like to gently push the edges down to envelope the apples.

Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until pastry has turned golden.

Allow to cool for 10 – 15 minutes and then place a plate over the tart and, using both hands, flip both upside down so the tart slides onto the plate. It should slide out without any issues.

Garnish with powdered sugar, toasted walnuts, or salted caramel.

so. good.

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Creamy Portobello & Thyme Pappardelle

Mmmmm this was so SO good. It was Friday evening. We got in late after another rousing round of house hunting. We were really tired and just wanted something comforting and quick. This really delivered. Mushrooms are amazingly versatile and so delicious in so many ways. They impart a really satisfying and robust umami to this pasta that plays so well with the creamy and sharp cheese. Combine that with the herbaceous quality of thyme and spice of pepper and it makes for a really flavourful dish. I happened to have roasted garlic in the fridge from the day before, so it was a no brainer to toss it in. It would be pretty simple to make some:

Roasted Garlic

Turn oven on to 400 F / 200 C. Make a sort of bowl out of aluminum foil by cupping it in your hand. Place about 7 unpeeled cloves of garlic in and drizzle with olive oil. Close up the bowl of foil and put it in the oven (even if it’s still preheating). Leave it in there about 20 minutes. That’s probably how long it’ll take you to prepare the rest of the ingredients and cook the mushrooms. When ready remove from oven, peel and mash cloves and put them in the sauce.

A splash of white wine would also be lovely. Overall, I think it took me about 30 minutes. The mushrooms need to release their liquid and soften which is probably what takes the longest. This isn’t at all a finicky dish so feel free to make it on a weeknight!

Ingredients

4 servings egg pappardelle or pasta of your choice

About 1 TBSP olive oil for sauteeing

1/2 yellow onion

4 large portobello mushroom caps

2 TBSP salted butter

2 cups milk

1 TBSP corn starch

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated parmigiano reggiano plus another 25 grams / about an ounce petals for garnish (I used a mandolin to make the petals but you can also slice thinly or buy them pre-made)

1.5 tsp fresh thyme

7 cloves roasted garlic (see recipe above)

Fresh cracked black pepper and salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Method

Boil pasta per package directions.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

While onions are sautéing, slice the mushrooms into 1 cm strips.

Add mushrooms to pan and cover (it might seem like a lot of mushrooms but they’ll reduce down significantly)

Uncover when they’ve reduced in size and darkened in colour. Use a spatula to gently turn them in the pan. Recover until they are consistently cooked. The mushrooms are very fragile until they cook through so they can break easily if moved. I wanted my slices to stay intact but it’s up to you how you want them to turn out. You may notice some liquid in the pan as the mushrooms release their water.

Once all of the mushrooms are roughly the same colour, add the milk to the pan and gently mix in. Sprinkle on the cornstarch and use your spatula to mix it in.

Add the thyme, roasted garlic, and grated cheese and mix to combine. Simmer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until the milk has reduced to a sauce consistency. If it doesn’t reduce enough add a bit more cornstarch and simmer another 5 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency.

Salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper, thyme, and parmigiana petals. Beautiful. Simple. Enjoy.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart with Gruyère & Thyme

It was such a pleasure making this tart. Bogdan and I met up with some friends at Eastern Market on Saturday and there were beautiful heirloom tomatoes everywhere. I didn’t have any plans for them but I had to have some. Just look how beautiful they are. Slicing them for this tart was almost as good as eating the finished product. The smell of sweet fresh tomatoes filled my kitchen and I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve seen quite a few tomato tarts on Pinterest lately and they all look so wonderful. I decided that would be the best way to highlight the tomatoes while also making something really eye-catching. You know what’s amazing about food? The sheer variety of preparation methods that can transform virtually the same ingredients from a margherita pizza to a rustic tomato tart. It’s incredible.

So about this tart. It looks really impressive but it’s surprising how simple it is to make. I made my own pie dough (recipe & instructions below) but you can substitute store bought if you prefer – that would make it even simpler. I think I used about 250 grams / 8.8 oz of tomatoes.  I used the small ones because I liked the look of it but you can also use large ones or even both. They have to be sliced thinly then laid out on a paper towel lined surface and sprinkled with salt so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Gruyère and thyme has been my favourite combination lately. I bought a little thyme bush from the farmers market a couple weeks ago and I’ve been using it in everything. The combination of gruyère and thyme is a classic. It lets the tomatoes shine while still adding a bit of interest. I garnished with a small sprig of basil just for appearances but you could also fully substitute basil and pecorino for the gruyère and thyme.

You’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of ingredients in this tart. Simple preparations like this are meant to highlight the quality of the few ingredients used. In this case, the tomatoes were really the star of the recipe and their quality and taste was noticeable. Try to take advantage of the harvest heirlooms available at farmers markets this time of year. Also, if at all possible don’t shy away from making your own pie dough. Not only does it taste infinitely better than store bought, but it also isn’t full of preservatives, stabilizers, colours and whatever else  store bought doughs are always full of (have you ever looked at the ingredients? It’s scary). The flour you choose makes a big difference too. My personal favourite (for almost everything I make) is Antimo Caputo Chef’s “00” Flour, however, for pastry it’s best to avoid a high gluten flour and use an AP instead. As always, unbleached is always better.

Unless you have somewhere you can buy all natural pie dough, make it yourself. It’s part of the experience. The secret is just to keep all the ingredients super cold – then it’s (almost) fool-proof. Also, this particular dough is made with a combination of lard and butter, which provides an ideal flour-to-fat ratio. If you don’t have or prefer not to use lard it’s best to substitute vegetable shortening instead of more butter because all butter can make for a mealy pie dough that’s hard to work with.

The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz unbleached AP flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it into my tart shell then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, press it into a tart shell. I used a very shallow (about 1 inch / 2.5 cm) tart pan that’s 10 inch / 25 cm across. I had a small handful of dough leftover so I think this would be enough to cover a 2 inch deep pan as well (especially if you don’t make the crust as thick as mine was).

Blind bake the tart dough (without anything in it) at 375 F / 190 C for 15 minutes. You can use pie weights or beans if you choose but I generally don’t.  You can move on to the tart recipe at this point.

When finished baking, remove from heat and assemble following instructions below. Leave the oven on.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

250 – 300 grams fresh heirloom tomatoes (either cherry or full sized)

1 prebaked pie or tart crust

1 TBSP fresh thyme + a bit more for garnish (fresh really makes a difference but if you have to use dry then substitute 1 tsp dried thyme for 1 TBSP fresh)

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated gruyère + more for garnish (after baking)

Method

Thinly slice the tomatoes (as thin as you have the patience for) and lay them out on a paper towel lined surface. Sprinkle with salt and let them sit for at least 30 minutes so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Take your tart or pie shell and sprinkle 1/3 of the thyme, then 1/3 of the cheese and layer on enough tomatoes to cover. Repeat for 2 more layers, using the rest of the ingredients. I had a few tomato slices leftover that I just ate as they were. If you have leftovers or not enough, adjust accordingly The tart should be relatively full so if you use a 2 inch tart pan then you’ll need to double your filling. PS: The top of the tart should be tomatoes and not cheese because the cheese will harden unpleasantly.

Bake at 375 F / 190 C for 15 – 20 minutes or until crust is a nice golden colour and tomatoes have dried.

Remove from heat and allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with more thyme and gruyère.

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Soft & Chewy Spiced White Chocolate & Pumpkin Seed Cookies

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soft. chewy. crunchy. sweet. salty. spicy. chocolatey. warm. mouthwatering. totally perfect.

These cookies are ah-mazing. Think of a cross between a ginger snap and a white chocolate macadamia nut. I tested the recipe 3-4 times over the course of a week to get it just right. Friends and family were my willing guinea pigs and they absolutely loved these cookies. There’s a bit of extra salt to counter the sweet and the spice and I think that’s what makes them so good.

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Complexity is my goal with baked goods. I always use salted butter in sweet baked goods and then add pinch or two more because it compliments the sweetness so beautifully. As far as desserts go, there are few things worse for me than cloyingly sweet desserts with nothing to balance the sweetness. Those are one note wonders. The mark of really good homemade baked goods is exactly that – they aren’t just sweet. These cookies have such amazing flavours from authentic vietnamese cinnamon, fresh ginger and spicy cayenne combined with sweet white chocolate and salty roasted pumpkin seeds.

Please just trust me and make these for your next fall get together. Everyone will love them and you.

On a related note, I picked up some Vietnamese cinnamon recently and I’m totally obsessed. It has a noticeably different flavour from conventional cinnamon. The only way I can describe it is that it tastes more like a cinnamon heart and less like apple pie (but not at all in a processed candy heart kind of way!). If you can get your hands on some it’s definitely a must-try for your fall baking.

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Ingredients

115 grams / 4 oz / 8 TBSP (one stick) salted butter (softened)

64 grams / 2.25 oz / 1/2 cup granulated sugar

32 grams / 1.12 oz / 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 tsp vanilla extract (my go-to is vanilla bean paste)

1 tsp fresh grated ginger

210 grams / 7.4 oz / 1.5 cups plus 2 TBSP AP flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Generous pinch of salt (I used about 1/2 tsp) + more for topping (kosher is especially nice if you have it)

60 grams / 2 oz  / 1/2 cup roasted salted pumpkin seeds plus an additional 30 grams / 1 oz / 1/4 cup for topping

130 grams / 4.6 oz / 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

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Method

In a large bowl cream together the softened butter and sugars until smooth.

Add egg, vanilla and ginger and mix until incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cayenne and salt.

Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until incorporated.

Add the pumpkin seeds and white chocolate and mix.

The dough should ideally be chilled before baking. I recommend forming balls before chilling because it’s a little easier. This recipe makes about one dozen average sized cookies or 10 large ones. Form balls and stack on a plate with parchment paper in between then place in freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until the centres of the cookies are still soft but not jiggly. For me the perfect time is 10 minutes but conditions can be different so keep an eye on them the first time you make them. For me 10 minutes makes soft and chewy cookies. If you prefer your cookies crisp bake an additional 2-3 minutes. I also like to bake a test cookie before baking all of them. If you do the same just remember that the cooking time will be different for one cookies versus an entire pan full.

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The Original Martini With Thyme

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Red vermouth martinis used to be my thing. I think I got a lot of satisfaction out of asking for something a little more obscure. I still do. Over the past few years gin and tonics have made a resurgence as the new hipster drink du jour. I think red vermouth is about to go in that direction too. If it does remember you saw it here first.

I hadn’t had a red vermouth martini for a really long time until this past weekend. I saw the Martini Rosso in the liquor cabinet in passing and remembered the luxurious, bitter-sweet and herbaceous taste of the martinis of my past. I had to make one. I also happened to have a little thyme bush from the farmers market and because I’ve been putting thyme in everything I thought, why break the trend? It makes for a very pretty drink too.

I should warn you it is a very assertive tasting cocktail and not for the uninitiated. If you don’t typically drink gin martinis, Americanos or Negronis then you might not be down with it. I once described it as tasting like grass. I’m into that kind of thing though. Are you? If you’re into Negronis and other obscure bitter drinks then you’ll love this. Let me know how it goes.

Also, it took me an inordinate amount of time to think of a name for this cocktail. I thought about just calling it a red martini with thyme…but that seemed unoriginal. Then I thought it must have already been done so I tried to find out what others have called it. The closest thing I could find is the Turf Club Cocktail from 1884 that replaces the lemon juice and thyme with angostura bitters. As it happens that didn’t bring me any closer to coming up with a name. The I learned that the original martini was called a Martinez and made with gin, red vermouth and Angostura Bitters. Meet the original martini…with thyme.

This recipe makes two small or one very large drink.

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Ingredients

4 oz Tanqueray or Hendricks

2 oz Martini Rosso red vermouth

A couple sprigs of thyme for muddling and a few more as a garnish

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Few splashes lemon juice + a lemon twist or two for garnish if you’re fancy like that

1 cup ice

 

Method

Pour the gin and red vermouth into one or two glasses.

Add the thyme and muddle well with a muddler or a spoon.

Add the lemon juice and bitters.

Add ice.

Stir.

Garnish as you please and enjoy your herbaceous, bitter-sweet and super luxurious throwback cocktail.

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Harvest Biryani With Chickpeas, Dried Cranberries & Pepitas

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Earlier this week I wrote about cooking with Fall flavours beyond pumpkin spice. There’s literally a world of flavours out there that we don’t associate with Fall nearly enough. Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines perfectly represent the richness and abundance of Fall. After all, what says Fall more than spices and long slow cooking methods?

This harvest biryani really brings out the tastes of the season. It’s rich and aromatic, perfect with seasoned meat or vegetables. The chickpeas and pepitas add great variety and texture, while the dried sweetened cranberries add juicy pops of sweetness and beautiful ruby tones. Don’t they look like little jewels?

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Once it’s assembled it only takes about 15 minutes to cook. I served it with ras el hanout rubbed boneless chicken thigh and I think dinner was ready in about 40 minutes total. Really quick for such an aromatic meal. Traditional accompaniments are lemon wedges and yogurt or raita. I splashed a bit of lemon juice, a dash of cumin, and some chopped cilantro into goat milk yogurt for a quick cool side. A bit of fresh chopped cilantro on the rice as a garnish provides a bright counterpoint to the spices and really brings out more complex flavours.

I think of biryani more as a cooking method than an actual dish.  Traditional ingredients used to make biryani are so varied. It can be made with a lot of different of spices, meats and vegetables and still be called biryani. At its origins biryani is simply a stewed and seasoned rice dish. I think what makes it unique is the cooking method.  Rather than being boiled the seasoned rice is steamed in a sealed container. I used a heavy bottomed pot that I sealed tightly with aluminum foil, a plate and a bowl on top of the plate (to weigh it down). I’ve made biryani before in both a pressure cooker and a dutch oven with the same results so feel free to use any of these options as long as you create a tight seal that won’t let any steam escape.

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Ingredients

1 cup of basmati rice

2 cups of water

1/2 yellow onion, sliced finely into thin rings

2-3 TBSP of oil or ghee for frying

1 can cooked chickpeas, drained

60 grams / 2 oz sweetened dried cranberries (mine were quite large so I rough chopped them into smaller bits)

1/2 tsp salt (more to taste)

60 grams / 2 oz pepitas

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cardamom

2 cups of water

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Method

Rinse rice and add to a pot of salted water

While water is coming to a boil, heat oil or ghee in a pan

Fry the sliced onion on high / medium-high heat until browned (you’re aiming for crisp brown not translucent so try not to crowd the onions in the pan)

Remove onions to a paper towel lined plate to drain

As soon as the rice comes to a boil immediately remove from heat and strain

Put rice in a bowl and mix with the chickpeas, cranberries and salt

Heat another small saucepan and quickly dry roast the pepitas, turmeric, and cardamom (this is optional but it really adds flavour)

Add the pepitas, turmeric and cardamom to the bowl and mix well

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Pour 2 cups of water into your heavy bottom pot, dutch oven, or pressure cooker

Using a large spoon gently put the rice onto the liquid

Top with the fried onion

Seal tightly and cook for 15 minutes on medium-high heat

When finished remove from heat and let sit sealed for another 10 minutes so the steam absorbs

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with yogurt or raita

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Pumpkin Spice Steel Cut Oat Brûlée

Wow. That name is a mouthful. I wasn’t sure what to call this. I’ve seen recipes for all kinds of brûléed things: oatmeal on the view from great island, rice pudding on baked bree, even savoury corn on tasty kitchen. I was excited to try my hand at brûléeing something other than custard. I wanted to make a healthier version of crème brûlée but honestly I don’t think this is that much healthier. It needs quite a lot of sugar on top in order to caramelize rather than burning. In a few spots you can see tiny black marks where the oats weren’t covered properly by the sugar and burned rather than caramelizing.

I learned through this process that there’s a simple way to minimize this effect and get a nicer sugar crust without using as much sugar: when your oats are ready and still hot spoon into ramekins, flatten with a spoon as much as possible, and let them sit for at least 30 minutes so they form a dry layer on top. The sugar is less likely to soak in liquid this way and you’ll get less char and more caramel. Also on that note, once you’ve sugared the tops move quickly to get them torched or broiled because the sugar will begin soaking in sugar very quickly.

creme brulee close up

I think I stewed my oats for about 40 minutes. I used 2.5 cups total of whole milk plus one whole cup of pumpkin puree, which resulted in really creamy and decadent tasting oats. I divided it into four ramekins for quite hearty servings. I think it would also divide nicely into six or even eight for a smaller component to go with the rest of brunch.

I tried to minimize the amount of sugar in the actual oats because there’s so much in the crust. There’s a total of 4 TBSP of brown sugar in the oats, plus about 1 TBSP of granulated sugar on top of each of my four ramekins. Bogdan said he would have liked more sugar in the oats. While the oats are cooking, taste and adjust to your preferences (keeping in mind that you don’t taste sweet as well when something is very hot). You can use less sugar on top as well just remember that anything not covered in sugar might just char.

I used a torch but you can also use your oven’s broiler setting. Moving quickly, slide your sugared ramekins (on a half sheet pan) under the broiler with the rack near the top but low enough that you can still see what’s happening. Don’t close the oven. Keep an eye on them because they’ll caramelize very quickly and can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye.

Like I said above, I don’t think this is that much healthier than regular crème brûlée. I also don’t consider this a “healthified” version of crème brûlée. It’s a standalone recipe. A slightly more decadent take on a healthy breakfast or brunch.

creme brulee from above

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup / 200 grams dry steel cut oats
  • 2.5 cups / 585 ml whole milk, divided
  • 1 cup + / 235 ml + water
  • 1 cup / 250 grams pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • 4 TBSP / 50 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 whole star anise pod (if you don’t have it it’s ok but if you do it really adds a nice flavour note)
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 – 8 TBSP granulated sugar for tops

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Method

Heat a heavy bottomed pot on the stove on high heat. Once pot has heated up, add oats and keep them moving around to evenly toast them a bit and bring out a more nutty flavour.

Once they smell toasty and nutty or they’ve browned slightly, reduce heat to medium, pour over 2 cups / 470 ml milk and add the star anise if you’re using it.

Stew uncovered until the oats have absorbed a lot of the milk (about 15-20 minutes). Stir and scrape up anything sticking to the bottom every so often. Add 1 cup / 235 ml of water, the pumpkin puree, and the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stew again until the oats are fully cooked (about 15-20 more minutes – taste as you go to see). Again, stir and scrape every so often. A lot of the liquid will reduce during the next stew. Feel free to add more water if the oats get really thick.

When the oats are cooked, add the remaining milk and stir until incorporated (continuing to cook for a few more minutes if it doesn’t absorb).

Spoon out into 4, 6 or 8 oven safe ramekins. Wait about 30 minutes for a skin to form on the tops then (moving quickly so the sugar doesn’t absorb liquid) sprinkle about 1 TBSP granulated sugar on the top of the oatmeal then torch (do one by one).

Alternatively, if you’re using the broiler slide your sugared ramekins (on a half sheet pan) under the broiler with the rack near the top but low enough that you can still see what’s happening. Don’t close the oven. Keep an eye on them because they’ll caramelize very quickly and can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye.

Serve with fruit or crème fraîche for a cool counterpoint.

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It’s Officially Fall!

It’s the first day of fall. I woke up earlier than usual this morning. The sun was just coming up as I sat down to write this post. I think a small part of me feels like it’s Christmas morning. It’s hard to say but fall might be my favourite season. There are so many things to love about it. The refreshing nip in the air in the mornings, leaves changing colour, Thanksgiving, farmers markets during harvest time, hot soups, and of course the baking. Fall is the season we say goodbye to the warmth outside and hello to the warmth inside.

I’m so excited for the season of baking ahead. I think I started my autumn baking a little early early this year with the Pumpkin Spice Gâteau Basque I made a few weeks ago.

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Like many people, I love pumpkin spice. I’m also sort of conflicted because I don’t want to be part of the already saturated pumpkin spice trend, but pumpkin spice is so good! I had a friend in university who always used to say that clichés are overused because they’re so true. Same thing with pumpkin spice, no?

Whatever the case, I’ve decided that this year I’m going to explore other ingredients and recipes that convey the warmth of autumn just as well as pumpkin spice does (maybe). I’m still going to make everything possible with pumpkin spice though – it’s like it’s become a public contest isn’t it? Who can make the most outrageous pumpkin spice thing….

Here are some of my favourite creative approaches to pumpkin spice:

I’m late to the game because apparently there’s already an entire pumpkin spice cookbook too. Also, I posted my pumpkin spice gateau basque on instagram and got likes from more than one pumpkin spice themed account. What!? How is that a thing?

What I was trying to get at was that I’ll be exploring other fall flavours: apples, squash, sweet potato & yams, savoury baked goods – all are really representative of the season and will be making an appearance in the next few weeks.

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Happy Fall!

And in case you’re wondering, I used “pumpkin spice” a total of 15 times in this post.

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Spiced Sweet Potato & Parsnip Medallions

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Ok, I have to be honest: this isn’t really a recipe. I feel sort of bad even posting it because it’s really simple and normally wouldn’t be worth posting but the pictures are so beautiful I had to share it at least for the sake of sharing presentation inspiration.

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I had been planning on making a sweet potato and parsnip purée to go with a lemon and herb roasted chicken. When it came time to make dinner a purée seemed like infinitely more work than just roasting along with the chicken in the oven. I cut two medium sized sweet potatoes and one parsnip into 1 cm thick medallions as shown above.

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I tossed them in olive oil with a touch of cinnamon and savoury and laid them out in one layer on parchment paper on a half sheet pan. I baked at 230 C / 450 F for 10 minutes then took them out, seasoned again this time with kosher salt, garlic powder, and chili flakes – enough to cover each medallion with a light dusting (about 1 tsp garlic and chill flakes, 1/2 tsp salt). I seasoned the tops first, flipped them and seasoned the bottoms and put them back in the oven like that so they would brown on both sides. Bake for another 10 minutes and they’re done.

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They don’t crips up very much but sweet potato is especially hard to crisp so I wasn’t surprised. They do have a bit of texture to them just nothing outstanding. That’s not what makes them special though. The real winning feature is how they look. Aren’t they a lot more striking than cubed roasted root vegetables?

Also, I don’t know how I have lived this long without ever having tried sweet potato and chili flakes. They belong together.

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Honey & Chile de Árbol Skillet Cornbread

Usually whenever I want cornbread I just toss a few things in a blender and it’s done in about five minutes. This particular iteration of my many five minute cornbreads was absolutely perfect. It had a great sweet to spice balance and was just moist enough. I made it to go with frijoles borrachos – in case you’re interested. Best part is how fast it is.

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Ingredients 

2 cups cornmeal (I used medium ground like for polenta)

1 tsp baking powder

1.5 – 2 cups yogurt/buttermilk/kefir (enough to make a batter that pours)

1 egg

1/3 cup softened salted butter + 1 pad for buttering the top of the finished cornbread

1/3 cup honey

3/4 cup of corn (frozen is fine)

Dried chile de árbol, seeds removed (use however many you can handle – I used 5 or 6 small ones and it was perfect for me.)

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Method

I usually just toss everything in my mini blender and it’s good to go but because this recipe has corn in it too I removed the batter to a bowl where I added the corn and mixed with a spatula. If you want to be precise about it you can mix wet ingredients first, then dry and pour the wet into the dry. However, I don’t see the point of dirtying more dishes when it isn’t necessary.

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If you aren’t using a mini blender or food processor I recommend you dice up your chile however fine you want it (ideally very fine) before adding it…in case that isn’t obvious.

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Bake at 400 F / 200 C for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 325 F / 160 C and bake an additional 5 minutes. The reason for this is that you want to achieve a solid centre without burnt edges.

Remove from oven and butter the top. Slice and serve with honey butter if you want to do things right.

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Truffle & Thyme Pâté

P1120648Pâté. A small word with many accents and assumptions. I think just the word makes most people think of something fussy. Pâté is not a fancy word in Romania. In fact, pâté is considered to be a quite rustic food. This is the case throughout Europe, where pâté finds it’s origins in humble peasants’ ingenuity and creativity. In North America pâté finds it’s origins in Europe. Probably has something to do with all the pomp.

If you can believe it, I didn’t realize pâté was fancy until well into my 20s. It was such a common feature on my family’s breakfast table that it never occurred to me. it was so common, in fact, that we took it camping. Earlier in our relationship Bogdan and I would go camping every summer with a big group of friends. Naturally, I packed pâté for an easy breakfast (obvious choice). You can imagine the reactions. That’s when I realized pâté was fancy. It was on the same camping trip that I also brought taramosalata, a Greek fish roe spread that’s usually described on the jar as “Greek style caviar spread”. I don’t think our friends will ever forget the summer we brought pâté and caviar camping.

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For the sake of accuracy, I think what we were eating when I was growing up was not actually pâté in the French sense but liverwurst in the much less fancy Eastern European sense. In any case, in Romanian we called it pateu so I always thought pâté was nbd. I don’t think the distinction has anything to do with ingredients. French pâté is often made from chicken or goose liver, but it isn’t exclusively so. Likewise, central and eastern European pâtés can be made from a variety of ingredients from poultry liver to pork, beef, and even seafood.

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So, the point I was going to make is this: if you want to buy pâté in the French sense in stores, it usually has a high price tag to match the fancy assumptions. Cast those assumptions aside because pâté is not only not fancy, but it’s so easy to make and will cost very little. It’s as easy as whizzing up some cooked liver and aromatics in a food processor. The recipe is adapted from one in  The Food of the World by Murdoch Publishing. I added truffle oil and upped the thyme.

I really recommend making it ahead and not trying it until it’s been refrigerated. Warm pâté is pretty unappetizing. I sealed it with a layer of clarified butter so it keeps longer. The flavours continue to develop and are at their peak about 24 hours after. This pâté keeps in the fridge for about a week but you’ll know it’s past its prime if it begins to taste slightly bitter. As for serving, pictured here is thinly sliced and toasted ciabatta loaf.

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Ingredients

1 lb / 500 grams chicken livers
80 ml / 1/3 cup brandy
1 whole onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 oz / 90 grams unsalted butter
2 TBSP chopped thyme
60 ml / 1/4 cup whipping cream
1.5 TBSP truffle infused olive oil
Salt to taste (about 1 tsp for me)

2 oz / 60 grams melted clarified butter (to seal)

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Method

Wash and trim chicken livers. Put in a bowl with the brandy and allow to marinade in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
When the liver is finished marinading, melt butter in a pan over low heat.
Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is transparent (about 3-5 minutes).
Increase heat to medium-high and add livers and thyme. Sauté until they change colour to brown and there’s no more pink or red in their centers (you can break them apart to see).
Pour contents of pan in a food processor and add cream, truffle oil, and salt.
Blend until very smooth.
Pour the pâté into a storage container (I used glass tupperware) and smooth down as flat as you can with a spatula. Pour clarified butter over the pâté, cover and refrigerate.

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Alton Brown’s Perfect Omelette with Balkan Sheep’s Milk Feta

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I’m just going to warn you before we go any further that if you make this you won’t be able to eat regular omelettes anymore. The first time we tasted the Alton Brown perfect omelette over a year ago we were immediately struck by the intense flavours that come through when you don’t cook the s*** out of your eggs. They are sublime. They’re smooth and custardy in the middle, providing the perfect environment to melt a bit of cheese or sprinkle some chopped herbs…but not too much! You don’t want to take away from the beautiful decadent custardy flavour of the eggs, which is perfect with just a sprinkle of salt as well.

It’s really more of a technique or preparation method than a recipe per se. Bogdan is the one who makes them in our household and I’ve requested his expertise for this post. He’s made perfect omelettes in a variety of ways over time. Some of our favourite “recipes” include goat cheese & chive, gruyere & ham, and straight up crumbled sheep’s milk feta on its own. All taste amazing in a perfect omelette and if there’s one truth to be gleaned it’s that when it comes to omelettes, less is always more.

The weekend after we had our first perfect omelette we had a brunch date with friends. We had a fairly late start to the day and all our favourite brunch places had 45+ minute waits, so we went to a greasy spoon. Someone in our party ordered an omelette. Bogdan and I weren’t omelette people to begin with. We never would have ordered one and we never made them at home. I for one just didn’t like the intense jumbled flavours in a normal omelette. They were always so full of stuff and sometimes I felt like that stuff just didn’t go with the taste of egg. That was until we had a perfect omelette. It changed everything. We were believers. It became a fixture in our lives, taking up residence between sunny side up and eggs benny in our at home brunch repertoire.

So, after this monumental egg related paradigm shift, you can imagine we were really eager to see the (as yet totally foreign) real life restaurant omelette to compare. We waited with bated breath for what seemed like a really long time. When our server started bringing our breakfasts two at a time we watched for the omelette. When it arrived at the table we did everything not to gasp at the grotesque bloated, burned, and beyond overcooked rubber dome on the plate. As a general rule, I try to avoid any meal that’s all the same colour. Not only was this omelette all one shade of slightly browned egg, but it was dome shaped and filled to the brim with all sorts of things. As it turns out, this particular diner’s house specialty was baked omelettes that puffed up into an inexplicably sturdy dome shape.

Bogdan and I looked at each other and knew we had been ruined for omelettes forever. Thanks Alton Brown.

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So here are a few of the cardinal rules of making a perfect omelette

  1. A perfect omelette is taken off the heat way before it’s cooked because it continues to cook with the residual heat. If you remove it from the heat as soon as it solidifies, you’ve already overcooked it. Once you taste a perfect omelette you’ll understand that overcooking is the worst thing you can do to eggs.
  2. A perfect omelette isn’t filled to the brim. Less is always more. A little sprinkle of cheese, a few pinches of slivered ham, a dash of chopped chives. You don’t need anymore than that and believe me it will be flavourful. For this recipe we used maybe half an ounce (15 grams or about 1 TBSP) of feta.
  3. If you choose mediocre eggs you’ll get a mediocre omelette. There are other preparations using eggs that don’t necessarily need the best eggs but in this case, as with custard or hollandaise, the eggs are the star of the dish so you should really use cage free and ideally organic. Farmers market would be best. The yellower the yolk the better.

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • Half an ounce (15 grams/ 1 TBSP) crumbled balkan sheep’s milk feta
  • Unlimited butter
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Alton Brown’s Perfect Omelette with Balkan Sheep’s Milk Feta

  1. About 5-10 minutes before you start put your eggs in a bowl of warm water so they come to room temperature. Putting them in the pan cold could make them cook unevenly. Likewise, if your fillings are very cold they can also affect the cooking process so those should also be taken out in advance.
  2. Preheat a non-stick skillet (preferably 8 inches for 3 eggs according to Alton Brown and Antonia Lofaso) on medium heat. This step is really critical. Imagine your oven dial on a 1 – 10 scale, you want to aim for 6 – 6.5 Too hot and they’ll overcook, not hot enough you might have some difficulty sliding the finished omelette off the pan.
  3. Prepare everything you’ll need because the eggs will only be cooking for about a minute. You’ll need to set our your butter, cheese, herbs, meat, salt, a spatula and a plate. Depending how much stuff you need to prepare you might have to do this step before you preheat your pan. P1120365_Fotor
  4. Crack the eggs one at a time into an empty bowl. Lightly whisk until incorporated. Normally you would add a pinch of salt here but if you’re using really salt cheese (taste your feta before) it might not be necessary.
  5. Butter the pan. If the butter browns your pan is too hot. If it doesn’t sizzle at all it’s too cold. You want it just warm enough so that when you drop the eggs in they’ll lightly sizzle.
  6. When you’re ready, pour the eggs into the pan then act fast. Set a timer if you need to so the next
  7. Using a silicone spatula scrape up the egg in middle of the pan so the cooked underside mixes with the uncooked top. Then pick up the skillet and gently swirl the egg around the edges (not high along the edges just over the existing egg).
  8. Put your skillet back on the burner and use your spatula to gently scrape off the edges and let them fall as they will towards the omelette. By this point there should only be a thin layer of uncooked eggs in the centre of your pan.
  9. Sprinkle on your filling in the very centre, trying not to get any on the outer edge of your omelette. P1120367_Fotor
  10. Use your spatula to loosen the omelette around the edges.
  11. Tip the skillet towards you and fold the bottom 1/3 of the omelette (closest to you) inwards toward the centre of the omelette. Then turn the pan toward your plate and use your spatula to slide the omelette onto the plate folded side first, flipping the final 1/3 over as you do.
  12. Garnish with any herbs you’re using. Serve immediately. Seriously. There’s no time for decorum here. If you’re cooking for a group tell everyone to just eat their omelette as soon as they get it because waiting even 5 minutes will really impact the final product. These are particularly nice served with tomatoes or field greens in a light lemon vinaigrette. Perfect.

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Also, for anyone who wants this process from the source, check out Alton Brown’s Good Eats Season 7 Episode 3 “The Egg Files VI: Zen and the Art of Omelet Maintenance“.

 

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Gajar Halwa Gummies With Carrot, Cardamom & Raw Honey

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A few months ago when we were doing whole30 I started reading up on a lot of different health foods. As it turns out gelatin has a really devoted following both for its health benefits and for the variety of things it can do from a culinary standpoint. I ordered some Great Lakes Unflavored Beef Gelatin, which has a reputation for being the best (mostly because it’s grassfed). I was so excited to experiment with my new gelatin but then I got caught up with other things and didn’t end up using it until yesterday. There are a lot of really cool recipes for gelatin gummy candies on pinterest. These are some of my favourites:

Sour Watermelon Gummies 

Sweet n’Sour Hibiscus Ginger Gummies

Green Juice Detox Gummies

I really liked the idea of a veggie gummy and started thinking of recipe combinations. I had some carrots and a juicer so I knew I could make a carrot juice that would take the gelatin quite well. My first thought was carrot ginger but that seemed…not very exciting.

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I also had some raw honey from Romania given to us by my in-laws. I started to think of ways I could combine carrot with honey. I remembered a sweet South Asian dessert made with carrot. Gajar Halwa is a North Indian carrot pudding usually made from a sticky sweet combination of grated carrot, sugar, milk, and cardamom. That seemed like a perfect combination, minus the dairy and sugar. I made them from carrot juice, gelatin, raw honey, and cardamom.

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Despite being cold and gelled, the resulting gummies have a beautiful aroma and remind me a lot of actual gajar halwa. The best part is that they’re really healthy. The heating process is gentle so the carrot and honey preserve a lot of their beneficial properties, like antioxidants and enzymes.You’ll feel better for having eaten these natural candies – and isn’t that what food should always do?

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Also, they’re really easy to make. All you need is some gelatin, a silicone mould, and about 15 minutes. This recipe made a bit more than 36 gummies so I used the rest to make this sort of avant-garde egg-yolk looking giant gajar halwa gummy. If you wanted to you could also mould them in actual ramekins and serve them as dessert.P1120202

 

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Ingredients

1 cup carrot juice
1/4 cup raw honey
3 TBSP gelatin
1/4 tsp cardamom (preferably not decorticated because for some reason it’s just more fragrant)
pinch of salt

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Method

Gently heat the carrot juice on low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes (until you can tell it’s warm-hot but before it’s even close to boiling)
Once the carrot juice is heated, bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it in an even layer over the surface of the juice.
Wait one minute and then whisk it in. Continue whisking on gentle heat until the gelatin has dissolved.
Remove from heat and mix in the honey, cardamom, and pinch of salt.
Pour into silicone mold and refrigerate at least one hour.
When you’re ready to eat, gently pop the gummies out. Keep refrigerated.

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PS: If you’re always wondering what you can do with leftover juicer pulp like I am, try making these curried carrot & quinoa cakes.

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They’re perfectly crisp and taste amazing. I would juice just to have pulp to make them.

 

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Curried Carrot & Quinoa Cakes (made with juicer pulp)

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Have you ever noticed the taste of your own cooking becoming too familiar?  It happens to me often. I first noticed it when Bogdan made butter chicken one night in late winter this year. We were in the middle of our first whole30 and experimenting with making different recipes compliant. One of our favourites was butter chicken with coconut milk instead of dairy and riced cauliflower instead of basmati. I made it quite often. It was a quick, warming, stick-to-your-ribs meal perfect for cold February weeknights. I don’t remember why but that particular night Bogdan decided he would make it. Bogdan can cook, he just doesn’t do it very often so I wasn’t expecting the level of flavour development he achieved in his 30 minute stint in the kitchen. When I took the first bite I was blown away by the flavours.The dish was bright, fragrant, and captivating. I ate, quietly mesmerized. I couldn’t figure out how he had made a familiar dish so exciting. It was like a jolt. A reawakening. A reminder of why I do what I do. Why food is at the centre of it all.

That experience made me realize that when one cooks, they leave a signature that makes the food their own. That probably sound obvious but even so it’s definitely taken for granted. It has little to do with following recipes and everything to do with personal style. That’s why nothing will ever taste like mom’s cooking. It’s the same reason my own cooking often starts becoming too familiar. I know my own cooking. I know my own methods and can usually anticipate how something will taste. That’s why I was so floored when I tasted these curried carrot and quinoa cakes. For a recipe I came up with to make use of juicer pulp (after making carrot juice gajar halwa gummies) these were phenomenal.

Knowing every step and ingredient can take some of the magic out of that first bite but that was definitely not the case here. These cakes have a perfect crisp crust enveloping the mouth-watering interplay of herbs and spices in an unexpectedly meaty filling. Writing this is making me want to make them again tonight. As I told Bogdan last night through mouthfuls of carrot and quinoa “I would juice just to make these.” On that note, I did use juicer pulp to make them and I know some people might not have juicers. I haven’t tried it but I think you could replicate this effect if you grated carrot and then squeezed out the liquid with some cheesecloth.

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It’s a lot of work but I would do it for these cakes. They’re that good. Again, I haven’t tried it so this isn’t a recommendation but if you really want to have them then this might be a good way.

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Ingredients

2.5 cups / 600 mL carrot pulp
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup diced cilantro
3 cloves of garlic (mashed)
1 cm x 1cm cube of ginger (mashed)
1 TBSP curry powder
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cardamom
pinch of cinnamon
5 TBSP ghee for frying

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Method

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined.
Form mix into either large (burger sized) or smaller falafel sized patties.
Heat ghee in a non-stick pan on medium heat.
Once heated, place patties in pan without crowding. Fry on medium heat uncovered for 5-7 minutes. The idea is to form a crust on the bottom. If the heat is too high they’ll burn instead of crisping.
Once a crust has formed (you can usually tell if they’re easier to pick up with a spatula) then flip and cook on the next side for another 5-7 minutes.
Best served hot with a spicy raita.

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Also for anyone wondering, the chilies in the pictures aren’t in the actual recipe (though you could add them if you wanted to) they were used in the raita I made to go with the cakes. I’ll try to get that recipe posted soon too.

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Spiced Butternut Squash & Pastured Beef Skillet

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Butternut squash season is here and I couldn’t be happier. This is by far one of my favourite meals. I make different iterations of it quite often, especially for brunch on lazy Sundays (and more than once for dinner on lazy weeknights). I’ve varied my protein selection quite often (corned beef, bacon, ground beef, ground turkey) but I’ve generally stuck to regular white potatoes as my main starch. I didn’t even think about swapping in other starches until we started cleaning up our diet with whole30 that I realized that plain white potatoes are not the most nutritious or exciting option. I think I may have shied away from other options because I wasn’t a big fan of sweet potatoe before. Thankfully those days are gone.

In addition to now loving sweet potato, I’ve also discovered the amazing taste and nutritional benefits of butternut squash.  It has a much milder flavour than sweet potato but still enough sweetness to blend beautifully in heavily spiced preparations. Also, it has half the calories and half the carbs of white potato and sweet potato but about the same amount of fiber, potassium, protein, vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium? As a bonus, it also has almost 10 times the vitamin C. Isn’t that amazing?

You’ll need to cook the squash beforehand but it’s really straightforward. You can peel or dice it either before cooking or after. I prefer after because it’s easier to work with for me, but it depends on your preferences.

If you’re peeling and dicing beforehand: peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, cut lengthwise first and scoop out seeds then dice the squash into 1 cm x 1 cm cubes, toss with olive oil or ghee and bake at 190 C / 375 F for about 30 minutes.

If you’re peeling and dicing afterward: cut the squash lengthwise, scoop out seeds and pulp, brush with ghee or olive oil, and bake at 375 for approximately 45 minutes. You can do this in advance. Cooked dice squash will keep in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for 6 – 12 months. We used the squash in this skillet for two different meals, sautéed with kale for dinner the night before and in the skillet shown here for brunch the next day.

Like I said above, you can substitute any meat. I think next time I’ll also add more vegetables. One thing I never change is that I always add a pinch of curry powder. It makes all the difference.

Also, this skillet is paleo and whole30 compliant.

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Ingredients

6 oz 80/20 grassfed ground beef
1 cup cooked butternut squash finely cubed
4 large eggs
2 TBSP chives diced
1 tbsp ghee
1/2 yellow onion diced
1 tsp + 1/4 tsp dried parsley flakes
1/4 tsp dried summer savoury
1/2 tsp curry powder
dash of cayenne
S&P to taste

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Method

Preheat oven to 400 F / 200 C
Sautee diced onion in ghee on medium heat until translucent
Add ground beef, increase heat to high and cook until browned but not quite done (approximately 7-8 minutes) while stirring frequently
Add butternut squash and continue stirring frequently. You want to try to get a bit of char on the squash without overcooking it
Add 1 tsp parsley flakes, savoury, curry, cayenne and S&P
Mix well to incorporate spices
Crack the eggs onto the mix, spacing them evenly
Sprinkle tops of eggs with S&P to taste before baking (it might not stick after)
Put skillet into oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until eggs are no longer runny
Remove from oven and sprinkle liberally with remaining parsley flakes and chives
Serve hot with a side of tomatoes to make a more complete meal

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