Food – Sweet & Savoury

I find INSPIRATION everywhere – sometimes in the strangest places

cutting up the ginger & getting ready to make cake
chopping ginger & getting ready to make the cake with all ingredients in the background

These delicious recipes came to me just last week when I was lying in my dentist’s chair with headphones on looking up at the TV on the ceiling (anything to divert my attention away from the work at hand) watching the Food Network channel.  Can you think of a better way to spend an hour while having your teeth cleaned? The two recipes that I saw looked so appealing that I made them both on the same day to rave reviews.

The first recipe is sweet and perfect for guests coming over around or on Christmas day, and the second reminded me that I had not made lasagna in ages.  Both were excellent and I was told that the lasagna was the best ever.  I’ve never followed a recipe for lasagna before but this one looked too good not to follow…with a slight diversion as usual.

Gingerbread Jars with Cranberry Curd

You can use different sized jars - fun way to serve
You can use different sized jars – my version
Nancy's original
Nancy’s original – you can decorate as you like

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra butter at room temperature for greasing the pan
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup molasses
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup crystallized ginger
Cranberry Curd:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pats
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Make the gingerbread: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-by-8-inch cake pan with a little softened butter and line with parchment paper, letting any excess hang over the edges of the pan.

Place the orange juice and raisins in a measuring cup and set aside to soak. In a mixing bowl add the melted butter, molasses and sour cream, whisking until well combined. Add 1 2/3 cups of flour, the ginger, baking soday, cinnamon, cloves and salt and whisk together until combined. Drain the raisins, then add them to the batter along with the remaining 1 cup of flour and the crystallized ginger. Combine with a silicone spatula, then pour into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool completely before cutting the cake into 1-inch cubes.

While the cake bakes, make the cranberry curd: Into a saucepan set over medium heat, add the sugar, cranberry juice and salt and whisk until smooth. Once the sugar is dissolved, whisk in the egg yolks, then add the butter. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the cranberry curd thickens and reaches 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and transfer the curd to a bowl to cool.

To assemble: Place a few pieces of the gingerbread cubes in a small jar, add 2 tablespoons of the cranberry curd on top of the gingerbread and top with *whipped cream.

*TIP: I added a little pure peppermint extract to the whipping cream. You can also make it a lot easier and just slice or cut the cake & drizzle the curd over it.

This Recipe courtesy of Nancy Fuller – Farmhouse Rules (the Food Network)

 Lasagna alla Besciamella20151211_195854Ingredients
Meat Ragu:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pushed through a press
1 pound ground beef
2 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Three 26.5-ounce boxes strained tomatoes, such as Pomi
1 cup dry red wine

3 cups whole milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

1 pound no-cook lasagna noodles, such as Barilla
2 1/4 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
One 8-ounce package part-skim low-moisture shredded mozzarella

To make the meat ragu: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add the ground beef, sausage, salt, basil, Italian seasoning, oregano and pepper to taste and increase the heat to high. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned all over. Add the tomatoes. Pour some of the wine into the empty tomato boxes to rinse out the last bits of tomatoes and add to the pot, along with the remaining wine. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the sauce thickens and the flavors come together, about 1 hour. Add a healthy amount of black pepper.

To make the besciamella: Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering, then turn off the heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour to the butter and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and then loosens again, about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, whisking almost constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and use immediately.

To make the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread an even layer of the meat ragu over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce lengthwise across the short side of the pan. Avoid overlapping or allowing them to touch the sides of the pan because they will expand as they cook. Press down slightly to let the sauce spread around them. Cover with one-quarter of the besciamella and sprinkle with one-third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of ragu. Add 3 more noodles, arranging them in the opposite direction from the first layer and breaking 1 of the noodles in half if necessary to fit. Add one-quarter of the besciamella and half of the mozzarella. Make a third layer of ragu, noodles (alternating directions again), besciamella and one-third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of ragu, then the remaining mozzarella, noodles (alternating the noodles again), besciamella and ragu.

Cover the pan with foil and bake until heated through, about 35 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes more. During the last 10 minutes of baking, scatter the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano all over. Let the lasagna stand for 10 minutes before serving.

*TIP – instead of the besciamella (Béchamel) sauce I used old-fashioned Ricotta cheese which Valerie’s mother makes and prefers and I did not use any wine for this (surprised,are you?).

Adapted from “One Dish at a Time” by Valerie Bertinelli

Recipe courtesy of Valerie Bertinelli
SHOW: Valerie’s Home Cooking
EPISODE: Ho! Ho! Ho! Company’s Comin

p.s. I have a thing for wearing aprons while cooking and have a little collection going on.  The one I’m wearing in the photo was a gift from my sister & it came with matching pot holders from a little boutique in Vancouver called “Wishlist”.  I have a vintage “Kenzo” with daisies & pockets that a friend picked up in Japan, animal prints from Africa, original white chef aprons and one that says “Living in Zin” that was a gift from friends I visited Napa with.  They all have a story, they’re all very useful and I feel like I’m getting down to business when I put them on.

Do you wear aprons? 


Food: making sense – Ummmmami!

They say style is A MATTER OF TASTE so maybe the same goes for food. Not to be outdone by fashion, there are now TRENDS IN FOODumami4

What’s the latest? UMAMI (the correct spelling but pronounced “oo-mommy”), at least here in North America although it originates from Japan.

Have you ever eaten something only to have a hard time describing the taste? What you may have been unable to describe is umami.  A distinct, difficult to describe flavor caused by the interaction of glutamates  (a naturally occurring amino acid, with receptors on the tongue).  That in itself is a tongue twister.  Anyway…

WHEN HUMANS EAT, they use all of their senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste) to form general judgments about their food, but it is taste that is the most influential in determining how delicious a food is. We’re familiar with the four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. However, it is now known that there is the fifth primary taste: umami.

The literal translation of the Japanese term means “pleasant, savory taste” or “yummy,” but that hardly gives you much to go on. Let’s put it into terms you can understand. Think fatty meats like steak.umami6


Few letters have the power to stop conversation in its tracks more than MSG, one of the most infamous additives in the food industry. Why is it that whenever I go into a new Chinese restaurant I always say “do you use MSG?” without even knowing exactly why or even if I have a reaction to it.  It’s just a safe bet that if the proprietor says “yes” that I’ll go elsewhere.  Interesting…what influence the media (and some people) have in creating havoc with our decision making abilities.

The three little letters carry so much negative weight that they’re often whispered sheepishly or, more often, decidedly preceded by the modifier “NO” that seems to make everyone breathe a collective sigh of relief when they go out to eat. Nobody wants MSG in their food—the protest goes—it causes headaches, stomach aches, dizziness and general malaise. It’s unhealthy and, maybe even worse, unsexy, used by lazy chefs as an excuse for flavor, not an enhancement.

On the other side of the spectrum lies umami: few foodie buzzwords pop off the lips with such entertaining ease. Enterprising young chefs like David Chang (of Momofuko fame) and Adam Fleischman, of the LA-based chain Umami Burger, have built their culinary careers on the basis of the fifth taste, revitalizing an interest in the meaty-depth of umami. It’s difficult to watch the Food Network or Travel Channel or any food-based program without hearing mention of the taste wunderkind, a host or chef cooing over the deep umami flavors of a Portobello mushroom. Where MSG is scary, umami is exciting.

What few people understand is that the hated MSG and the adored umami are chemically related: umami is tasted by the very receptors that MSG targets.

On the other hand, MSG’s glutamic cousin umami suffers no public scorn: in 2010, umami was deemed one of the most delicious food trends to watch. When Adam Fleischman’s Umami Burger (a burger chain devoted to all things umami) opened a New York outpost, the wait for a meaty bite stretched on for three-hours. In addition to piling natural glutamates onto their burger to ensure the most umami flavor, Umami Burger enhances the burger with their “umami dust (not unlike fairy dust),” a blend of dried mushrooms and seaweed, and umami sauce, which includes soy and Marmite.

“Most people don’t know the connection between umami and MSG. They know about it from the fifth taste, and the fifth taste was always called umami and not MSG,” Fleischman explains. “We didn’t feel that using MSG was creative enough. We wanted to do it ourselves. By doing it ourselves, we could create a flavor that was umami without the stigma of MSG. MSG, whether you like it or not, has been marketed so poorly, it sounds like this horrible thing.”

By harnessing natural glutamates for their burgers, Umami Burger avoids negative connotations associated with MSG. But the “natural” glutamates in an Umami Burger aren’t chemically any different from glutamtes in MSG.

“The short answer is that there is no difference: glutamate is glutamate is glutamate,” says Richard Amasino, professor of biochemistry at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It would be identical unless different things created a different rate of uptake.”

Glutamtes that occur naturally in food come intertwined with different chemicals or fiber, which the body is naturally inclined to regulate, explains Amy Cheng Vollmer, professor of biology at Swarthmore College. MSG, however, comes without the natural components of food that help the body regulate glutamic levels. It’s like taking an iron supplement versus obtaining iron from spinach or red meat: the iron supplement creates an expressway between the iron and your bloodstream that you wouldn’t find in natural iron sources.

“The bottom line here is context is everything,” Vollmer adds.

So does MSG deserve its bad rap? For the small section of the population that shows sensitivity to it, probably. But for the rest of us, maybe it’s time to reconsider exactly what we’re so afraid of when it comes to MSG.

Is it a matter of taste or are we being too sensitive?

and there is also paste....
A spinoff – and there is also paste….

FDA considers the addition of MSG to foods to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.

Other Sources: http://republic.com


simply satisfying – Classic Niçoise Salad

Photo: Johnny Miller
Photo: Johnny Miller

 1960’s.  While no one lays claim to inventing this French salad “niçoise” just means “in the style of Nice,” the French beachside town.  Credit goes to Julia Child for popularizing it in America in the 60’s.


1 pound red-skinned potatoes, sliced 1/3 inch thick
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons dry white wine
10 ounces haricots verts or thin green beans, trimmed
4 large eggs
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 cherry tomatoes or small cocktail tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated
6 radishes, trimmed and quartered
2 5 1/2 -ounce cans Italian or Spanish tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1/2 cup nicoise olives

A modern take with seared Tuna.
A modern take with seared Tuna.


Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water and season with salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a medium bowl; drizzle with the wine and let cool. Reserve the saucepan.

Meanwhile, bring a separate saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with salted ice water. Add the haricots verts to the boiling water; cook until crisp-tender and bright green, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into the ice water to cool; drain and pat dry.

Place the eggs in the reserved saucepan and cover with cold water by about 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover, remove from the heat and let stand, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, then run under cold water to cool. Peel under cold running water.

Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, shallot, mustard, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until emulsified.

Toss the tomatoes in a small bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1/4 cup dressing to the potatoes and toss. Quarter the hard-cooked eggs.

Divide the lettuce among 4 plates. Arrange the potatoes, haricots verts, radishes, hard-cooked eggs and tuna on top. Pour any juices from the tomatoes into the dressing, then add the tomatoes to the plates. Drizzle with the dressing and top with the *olives.

  • The Niçoise Olive is grown in Cote d’Azur – a region of the French Riviera.

*Did You Know…?

  • Because the true Niçoise isn’t a large crop (with harvests rarely exceeding 50 metric tons), most companies and olive importers grab Niçoise Style Olives from Italy, Spain or Moracco. Most any olive you see in the market that is identified as a “Niçoise” isn’t from Cote d’Azur.  Substitutes:  Kalamata

So when was the last time you made or ordered a salad like this?

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Recipe courtesy of Food Network Kitchens

simply satisfying – Classic Cobb Salad

1934.  This popular dinner salad originated as a midnight snack for Robert Cobb, owner of the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles.  There’s a replica of the famous restaurant at Disney World.

photo - Johnny Miller for Food Network Magazine
photo – Johnny Miller for Food Network Magazine

8 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
4 large eggs
Kosher salt
2 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Zest (in wide strips) and juice of 1 lemon
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
2 avocados
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 large head Bibb lettuce, torn into pieces
2 heads romaine lettuce, cut into pieces
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring, until crisp, 15 to 20 minutes; transfer to paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water by about 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover, remove from the heat and let stand, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, then run under cold water to cool. Peel under cold running water. Chop the hard-cooked eggs and season with salt.

Combine the chicken, lemon zest and juice, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and a large pinch of salt in a medium saucepan; add enough cold water to cover the chicken by 1/2 inch. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat (do not boil) and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 160 degrees F, about 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, shallot, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a serving bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until emulsified; season with pepper. Dice the chicken and toss with 1 tablespoon of the dressing in a separate bowl.

Halve, pit and dice the avocados. Season the tomatoes with salt. Add the Bibb and romaine lettuce to the serving bowl on top of the dressing. Arrange the bacon, hard-cooked eggs, chicken, avocados, tomatoes and blue cheese in rows on top of the lettuce. When ready to serve, toss the salad and season with salt and pepper.

Next week – I’ll post a recipe for Classic Niçoise  Salad.  I’m really into salads more and more these days and it’s nice to incorporate some oldies but goodies into the salad mix.

If there’s a specific recipe you’re looking for please let me know.