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Poached pears are a simple staple. Something that can be turned into a dessert, a drink, a breakfast or a tart. Easily prepared and stored in advance of a dinner party or kept for a few days worth of breakfasts, they’re something to keep in mind for those last minute panics when people are coming for dinner and you feel like doing something impressive with those pears you forgot to eat….


Store the poached pears in the fridge for a few days to be used in desserts such as pear and almond tart or with vanilla ice cream or keep them for breakfast – tossed with a little honey, natural yogurt and maybe some muesli. Otherwise use in puree form to add to a glass of champagne or prosecco for a sweet and spicy aperitif.


What you’ll need

4 pears – ripe and firm so that they’ll hold their shape.

200 grams sugar

1litre water

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

a few cloves

vanilla essence

Other spices and flavourings can be added as you see fit – star anise, tonka beans, dried fruits, orange peel, lemon…

What to do

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Heat the water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and simmer on a low heat. Add the cinnamon and maple syrup and the spices you choose. Cover the surface of the water so the pears stay submerged (use some baking parchment as a layer for example). Simmer until the pears are soft but still firm enough to retain their shape. Test with a fork. Remove when done and let cool.

It’s been a while.  It seems that pregnancy and cooking are not always a good combination. Raging hormones have temporarily replaced my taste buds with those of a hungover university freshman and I had no inclination to cook or eat anything healthy or strange or exciting let alone write about it. No offense to college first years.. . But for the last few months I have wanted only simple starchy foods (preferably with ketchup).

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Now I’m finally getting back to eating normally even coaxing the lentils out of the dark corner where they have been forced to hide with all the other remotely healthy foods in the pantry.

So as a transition, we have breakfast muffins. Amazing gooey, fruity, yummy muffins. These are sticky and so moist they keep for days. Relatively healthy with no butter they are a good breakfast treat and a great brunch addition.

Baking without using butter may seem entirely wrong to some people and let’s face it baked goods with real butter have a little bit of heaven in them so they have their place in the world. However, you can still have your cholesterol and eat it too…so to speak…

High cholesterol reared it’s ugly head recently in my family and I feel obliged to find ways of banishing le buerre from my parents household. Banish. Not substitute.There is a difference.

So, when baking there are lots of ways of not using butter. It’s just another way of baking. Vegetable and nut oils, fruit compotes, yogurts, buttermilk all can play a part. It just needs different measurements, a little experimenting and a lot of tasting. No problem really.

These muffins use nut oil and honey/maple syrup instead of regular granulated sugar and butter. Maple syrup is preferable for taste I find but both give a nice sweetness.

Muffins

Fruity breakfast muffins

Ingredients

In one bowl :

2 x 125gr tubs of vanilla yogurt (or plain)

3 tablespoons nut oil

2/3 eggs

2 tablespoons dark rich genuine maple syrup (or 3 tablespoons honey or a mix of both)

200 gr fresh or frozen berries ( a full regular coffee cup will do either)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

In another bowl:

230 gr flour ( mix whole wheat, plain, spelt, rye…as you wish)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons raw oats (optional)

Making

Mix the wet ingredients  first. After mixing the dry carefully fold the dry into the wet – but do not over mix the batter.

Pour into muffin tin – makes about 12 medium size muffins (fill each almost to the top for generous sized muffins)

Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean

December is here, root vegetables reign, and the pomegranate is back until end of January. Fast, after work suppers are hard to manage without relying on fast food or processed produce. Keep a few staples in the kitchen to back you up for when you feel like a healthy supper that doesn’t taste like a trip down diet lane. Dried algae are an affordable way of nutritionally boosting your dishes. Seaweeds are an excellent source of minerals in general and are easily added to soups, vegetables and stews.

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Plus seaweed helps render pulses and beans more digestible. Just add a little to them as they are cooking.

An all-in-one bowl of smoky goodness – this veggie bowl is simple, filling and fast. One of my pantry staples has become a Mexican chipotle powder from the London Borough market that’s pretty fiery but a great way of livening up a lentil stew without adding fatty bacon or pancetta à la version française.

Extremely low in fat and high in fibre yet behaves like a potato, the celery root (celeriac) has a lot going for it nutritionally with a strong taste that is great for soups, purées or for making healthy chips.  Looking like a cross between a radish, a turnip and a potato, it’s a bit of an ugly duckling root vegetable that can stand up to cooking holding it’s shape and flavour well.

In this bowl the chipotle is nicely absorbed by the celeriac and the eventual sprinkling of feta at the end combats the strong flavours and adds a touch of cool creaminess.

Kombu, edible Japanese seaweed, is extensively used in and it can be traced back to the year 797. One of its benefits is to render pulses and beans more digestible. Often it is cultivated locally too, the kombu I use is from western France.

The feta is a nice creamy salty cooling factor that is best added at the last moment.

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Ingredients

1 cup yellow lentils

1 cup chopped fresh celeriac

1 diced shallot

1 organic stock cube (optional)

Scant ½ teaspoon of chipotle powder

3 cups water

1 or 2 strands of kombu seaweed (optional)

1 teaspoon nut oil

2 tablespoons crumbled feta

Making

Peel and chop the celery root/celeriac. Heat the nut oil and lightly sauté the shallot before adding the lentils and the celeriac to the hot pan.

Add the chipotle powder and ensure the lentils and celeriac are well coated in the oil and the smoky powder.  If using, add the stock cube here, crumbling it slightly. The flavours will infuse here in the heat.

Then add the water, add the kombu, bringing everything to the boil, stirring well.  Then reduce the heat and simmer for about 35-40 minutes.

Serve with the feta crumbled on top.

Tis the season…autumn meets winter, the appearance of parsnips to confound French people, it’s that period of in-between-the-Thanksgiving(s) plus the Halloween call for pumpkin head carving that will create a lot of pumpkin gut spilling. What to do with it?

pumpkin pie

Pie! This is a weeks worth of breakfast right there so that alone will make it worth your while.

Pumpkin Pie, nothing revolutionary for some people but I had never made one. No idea what it actually tasted like either.  Minor details. I somehow unintentionally avoided it up to now.  Turns out it’s an acquired taste, a good one, a great breakfast food and it begs to made in savoury form (as most of these pies do). Unsweetened canned pumpkin puree is mostly used for this kind of recipe but canned was not to be found and secretly I didn’t want to go down that road. (The slippery slope of canned goods and all…) Smaller pumpkins or the natural “slices” of the large ones made good candidates for the filling. Carve it up into hunks and roast it for about an hour with a little olive oil until you can put it in the food processor.

A little spice in the filling adds a necessary bit of flavour and the nuts on top give a little toasted crunch to an otherwise rather mushy affair…

Happy Halloween!

Ingredients

Filling
- about 3 good chunks of a large pumpkin (the big slices) chopped and slowly roasted until you can puree it and set it aside to cool (maybe do it in advance)
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 150gr brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Crust
- one pate brisée – make a pastry of short choice and prepare your crust in a wide pie tin
Use half wholemeal flour if you feel like it – this is not a delicate dessert so the crust can take a sturdier flour.
- 1/2 cup finely crushed hazelnuts (the other half you can sprinkle on top)
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup

Optional (but so important!)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon of freshly grated cloves

- 1 inch of fresh ginger (grated)

Making

You can roast the pumpkin flesh well in advance. An issue may be that the pumpkin puree becomes a little too liquid. The cornstarch will offset that so it’s not a problem. Even if it seems a little “wet” once out of the oven, time in the fridge or time to cool will sort that.

Make the crust in advance, prick the base with a fork and brush the edges with the maple syrup. Instead of baking blind, scatter a layer of the nuts over the base in order to prevent the pumpkin filling from making it soggy. You could experiment here – crushed biscuits, toasted almonds…this will help to create a barrier between the filling and the base. Adds a little something to the taste too. The rest of these crushed nuts or cookies can be your topping.

Once the pumpkin flesh is blended and cooled beat in the eggs, the vanilla extract and the sugar along with any spices you want to add for flavour.  Pour the filling into the base and sprinkle with the rest of the hazelnuts creating a topping.
Bake for about 50 minutes at 190°C.

Serve chilled or a room temp with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.

Butter tarts. A tart made of butter? Surely not. But it is exactly that, give or take the eggs and sugar and your choice of flavouring. Beyond that detail however, and more importantly, this is by far the best way to gain the love of a Canadian. Or, at the very least, their attention for a few minutes. And with Canadian Thanksgiving approaching it seems only right to showcase some of their culinary highlights. Yes, Canadian Thanksgiving. Earlier then the US but with similar feasting. We’re still unsure of what they’re giving thanks for though…if anyone knows, feel free to share.

Seemingly only known and loved by the poutine guzzling canoeists of the great north, these little tarts are sweet, sugary and delicious. Possibilities for flavourings are endless but the simple butter tart stands alone. Raisins and walnuts seem to be the most popular but I’ve also encountered coconut, toffee, caramel and peanut. All courtesy of The Sweet Oven – a bakery in a strip mall in Barrie, Ontario of all places – where they churn out butter tarts and only butter tarts by the dozen, each day of the week corresponding to a certain flavour. If you happen to live in this location or you’re a Torontonian taking regular trips to nearby cottage country, you should stop and grab a dozen.

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These little tarts do not require baking blind and thus the filling seeps into the crust making it a few bites of crumbly, buttery sugar kick..

Make the pastry in advance and chill for at least an hour before attacking. Once made these will keep for a few days and are good served chilled or at room temp.

Ingredients

Pastry:

175 grams all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
(14 grams granulated white sugar
113 grams unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into pieces
30 – 60 ml ice water

Ingredients – for the filling:

70 grams unsalted butter
215 grams light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
60 ml light cream
1/2 cup raisins or 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (toasted and chopped) (optional)

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Making

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C and prepare 2 tart trays/muffin trays will do.

Pastry: I recently read an article on pastry making in an Australian wine magazine. Apparently one should not treat pastry as if it were bread dough. Wonderful advice. Over-kneading develops the gluten in the flour making for tough pastry. Barely touching your dough as it forms a ball is the best way to go allowing the butter to streak your pastry and ensures a moist flaky short crust pastry. Good tips..

Rub the chunks of butter into the pastry to form a loose crumb, using a little water bring it all together to form a ball of dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Handle as little as possible before placing the ball of dough into some cling film and refrigerating for at least an hour.
When ready, divide the dough in half and roll out onto a well-floured surface in order to cut into rounds. Use a small round bowl or a cutter to make your tarts – these will be placed in the trays and then filled so ensure they’re generous enough to accommodate the batter without being too big.

Once the rounds are in the baking trays place in the fridge while you make the batter.

Make the filling
Cream the butter and the sugar. Beat in the eggs and add the vanilla extract. Stir in the cream until you have a smooth batter.

If using nuts and/or raisin fillings place a spoonful in the base of each tart. Then pour a tablespoonful of batter into each one.

Bake for about 20 – 30 minutes at 190°C until golden brown and crunchy looking on top.

PS: This one goes out to Matt The (Great) Canadian without whom I would never have eaten a butter tart or indeed discovered the hidden delights of a Barrie strip mall.

Healthy brownies are all the rage. Adapted from a cookbook dedicated to cooking with agave nectar by Ania Catalano,  Heidi’s infamous black bean brownies have taken the food blogs by storm.  Now we’ve got red bean azuki brownies. The beans replace the flour, give texture, lend their crumbly nature and render something sinful slightly less so. Can a sweet red bean and rice bowl become a brownie? I don’t see why not. These are light and crumbly and best served chilled. Definitely a winner, a chewy dense chocolaty brownie with none of the guilt…or very little…

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Ingredients
200g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter
200g cooked adzuki beans
3 tablespoons dessicated coconut
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4  eggs
300ml maple syrup and/or agave nectar (use about 2/3 maple syrup and 1/3 agave – agave is very sweet)

Chopped nuts would be optional


Making

Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat and mix in the vanilla essence, salt and then the cocoa powder. At the same time put the beans and the coconut in the food processor and pulse until crumbly. Separately, beat the eggs and the maple syrup mixture until fluffy. Fold the bean mixture into the chocolate then the chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar. Pour the resulting batter into a well-greased 9 inch brownie tin and bake for about 30 – 40 minutes until done. Chill before serving as they get quite crumbly. Serve dusted with icing sugar.

Small, red and eaten extensively in China and Japan,  azuki beans are often eaten as a good luck or celebratory dish in Japan being cooked with sticky rice to form the red rice dish sekihan. Boiled with sugar they form the red bean paste commonly used in Chinese and Japanese desserts and are used to make teas, ice cream and soups.

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Their use in sweet treats got me thinking about the almond milk in the fridge and how a sweet and salty rice bowl would be pretty good for the red beans waiting on the shelf. The wild rice and quinoa give a great nutty base and absorb the almond milk and coconut to give a fluffy bowl with great texture and flavour. I also had them in mind to replace the black beans in Heidi’s infamous black bean brownies that have taken the food blogs by storm but that’s for the next post.

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Like all legumes and beans, they are very good for you, full of minerals such as zinc, magnesium and folate and unlike most dried beans you can get away without soaking overnight before cooking them.  They are also easier to digest then other beans. If you do find the time to soak them in cold water for a few hours, rinse them well before cooking.  They also  retain their shape during cooking which makes them prettier to serve.  This recipe would also work easily with black beans, plain rice or other grains.

Ingredients

1 cup red azuki beans (cooked)
2 cups quinoa
1 cup wild rice
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic diced
2 tablespoons strong tamari
1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
11/2 tablespoon dessicated coconut
1 cup almond milk (or more depending on how “liquidy” you like it)
1 cup water

Making

The beans will take at least an hour so keep this in mind or have them cooked the day before. To cook them put 1 cup of beans with 2 cups or more of water and bring to the boil. Let simmer at a relatively high heat for about an hour or maybe more until you can easily mash them with a fork.

The rice and quinoa mix will take only about 25 minutes. In a pan melt a little butter and add the chopped onions stirring until translucent. Add the diced garlic and the grated coconut mixing well, lowering the heat to keep it from sticking. Pour in the quinoa and rice stirring so that they absorb the buttery onion mix.  Slowly add a little of the almond milk ensuring the quinoa and rice are coated. Then add the water bringing the rice and quinoa to the boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. At this point add more almond milk stirring well. Add one tablespoon of tamari. When all the liquid is absorbed add more almond milk and tamari and take off the heat. Set aside until the beans are ready. When the beans are done, drain them in wold water to rinse off any excess starch or cooking liquid then return them to their pan adding 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Toss around on the heat then serve over the fluffy  rice and quinoa. Serve immediately.

Retain a little almond milk to pour over as you finish cooking and are about to serve.

Add the beans and drizzle with tamari and a little maple (or agave) syrup.

While spending a couple of days recently in The Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s wine regions, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth Dukka was served everywhere.  Each restaurant seemed to offer a starter of sourdough and dukka (or dukkah)…and always at a price too. It’s not something you come across in Paris ever really and so I was intrigued as ever on the look out for an alternate apero.

Of Egyptian origin, Dukka is usually a spice and nut blend with hazelnuts, chickpeas and thyme as a base but combinations vary wildly and some dukkas boast macadamia nuts as their dominant flavour while with others it’s sesame that takes the lead.  It’s like the crumbly love child of zaatar and gomasio with a twist of roasted nuts. Fabulously fragrant, it’s very easy and another way to spice up an evening glass of wine. With a little scrutiny and some internet research, the contents of a dukka bowl are not hard to figure out. Invent a blend that suits you.

The ingredients, for the most part, are likely to be sitting around many a kitchen. Dukka could also be used to season meats or as a sprinkling for salads, soups, roasted vegetables….

Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with some warm flatbreads.

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Ingredients (this is a list of options that can be played around with; leave out what you don’t like or add things like dessicated coconut)

2 tablespoons whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup Macadamia or Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Making

Roast the hazelnuts until the skins can be rubbed off. Then toast the other seeds and nuts. Toast  them on a dry hot pan for very little time; just until they start to dance around a little. Using a pestle and mortar roughly grind them until the nuts and seeds are broken up but not too finely otherwise the nuts will become too oily. This is a dry crumbly nut mix.

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You could be forgiven for thinking they are a Canadian national food. Comforting and calorific , these little dumplings native to eastern Europe, are to be found all over, in shops and restaurants, fresh or frozen. Never having eaten a perogy, I muttered something about never having tasted them on my first visit to Canada a couple of years ago.

Baba Hania's perogies, Toronto, November 2007
This remark was picked up on by my better half’s grandmother whose parents were born in Ukraine and who arrived in Canada in the early 1900′s. Despite being due to fly back to Manitoba that afternoon , the fact that someone close to her grandson had never tasted perogies jolted her into action and there were 12 dozen perogies whipped up by mid morning.

The food of an immigrant culture is often more then just food, it’s a way to explore and connect with the stories told by relatives and friends of places you feel you are from but have never been to or places you don’t feel any connection with but feel that you should. Smothered in melted butter and fried onions, perogies are unapologetically less then good for you but also, I imagine, a link to a past or to a heritage not quite known.

I asked this wonderful lady, who has been kind enough to welcome me into her family and share with me her memories and her recipes, to explain a little of the history behind the perogy and she had this to say:

….In Polish, we say 1 perog, 2 or more perogy; in Ukrainian, it’s 1 perih, 2 or more perohy. The root, rog or rih, means horn, & rogy or rohy is the plural for horns. Perogies are crescent-shaped filled dumplings with 2 horn-like pointed ends. Gradually the plural name of this dish was Anglicized in Canada by taking “perogy” (already plural) and changing the y to i and adding es — as taught in English classes — hence the word perogies. A touching and welcome modification that says, “You’re in.”

Ukrainian and Polish pioneers brought the custom of making perogies to Canada with them. As in their homeland, the “breadbasket of Europe,” they grew wheat and potatoes and other vegetables, and raised cattle for their own dairy products. The ingredients for this tasty dish were thus on hand at all times. We now relish perogies as a special treat, if we can find someone willing to make them — it is a labor-intensive but rewarding task.

Even Canada’s banner Maclean’s magazine, during Manitoba’s Flood of the Century in 1997, legitimized their simple but strategic importance to survival by referring to the countless sandbags used to form dikes for warding off the flood waters as “Red River Perogies.” The sandbags did have pointed ends and were plump and cream in color — an appropriate metaphor, for it symbolized how simple, readily-available materials can make all the difference in times of great urgency: common sand in bags to fight floods, and potatoes with cheese wrapped in dough to ward off hunger among the pioneers.

- Anne Yanchyshyn, Winnipeg, August 2009


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The hand-written recipe I now try to follow in a Paris kitchen not quite getting it right but having fun all the same.

Ingredients (will make 10 dozen or more)

- 6 cups of flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the following three ingredients together:

- 1 beaten egg
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon oil

Making

Add the water to the flour to make a smooth dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Let the dough sit for at least an hour (covered and cool). Then cut in hlaf to make two long rolls. Roll these in flour, set aside and let stand. Alternatively divide the dough into three or 4 patties, cover and set aside.

Filling

- 8 medium potatoes
- 250gr cheese (cheddar, Gruyère or Swiss as you wish)
- 2 or 3 onions, diced
- butter for frying

Making

Peel and boil the potatoes and mash together with the cheese. Fry the diced onions in butter until soft and translucent. Add some of the oil or butter left from the onions to the potatoes.

If using long rolls  slice the dough to get small discs that can be filled. Place a little filling in the centre then bring the bottom end to the top folding in.  Then gently pinch the ends together. Fill each disc of dough and fold over pinching the ends together. Boil water and cook the perogies in batches dunking them for about 8 minutes or until they float to the top.

Then eat while hot smothered in butter and fried onions.  If eating from chilled, then just sauté in a hot pan. Amazing.

Note - If you don’t want to eat them straight away they can be refrigerated or frozen. They do need to be boiled beforehand though. Some people put them, raw, on cookie sheets, well apart, & freeze them, then bag them & keep them frozen till needed but otherwise boil them, butter them, chill them then bag them for the freezer. Or just leave them in the fridge to be eaten that day.

Nothing too original in this recipe but Paris picnicking season is well underway and there is always call for a Tupperware container of some kind of “salad”. It’s always fun too to raise Parisian eyebrows with random combinations of sweet and savoury.  It took me a long time to figure out that the exotic wheat berry as spoken of by North American cooks and foodies was in fact the humble blé as served in the work canteen. They’re  another great grain to add to the mix if you’re sick of quinoa/millet/rice etc…

apricucumbering2

apricucumbering1

Ingredients

- 1 generous cup wheatberries
- 5/6 small fresh apricots
- 1 tablespoon tamari

- 1/2  teaspoon brown sugar
- 2/3 tablespoons nut or olive oil
- half a large cucumber
- 1/2 clove garlic diced
- salt and pepper to taste

Making

Heat a tiny amount of butter or oil in a pan and toss the wheat berries in it until they’re coated. Add 2 cups cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and remove once all water has been absorbed and the wheat berries are soft to the bite. Rinse the grains under running water in a colander to remove the starch and stop cooking. Set aside in a large bowl.

Remove the pits from the apricots chop both these and the cucumber small pieces. In a small bowl mix together the oil, garlic, tamari and sugar. Toss the apricots and cucumber in this mixture until fully coated.

Mix the apricot cucumber mixture into the wheat berries.

Leave to marinade a little, let the flavours develop or chill until it’s time to picnic!

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