Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mediterranean Eggplant & Tomato Relish


Ajvar! Caponata! Pindjur! If you're of North American descent, chances are, you've never heard any of these words. They're in fact three different condiments from various parts of the world, whose ingredients differ regionally. What they often share is a beautiful base of eggplant and tomato.

Ah, the eggplant-tomato combo. Where have you been all my life? A few years ago, I realized that I actually enjoy eggplant. More recently, I discovered that I enjoy it even more when it marries with tomato to become a sweet and tangy sauce. Today, I present to you my version of an eggplant-tomato sauce. No, it's not a babaganoush. And it's not quite a ratatouille. It's it's own thing, really, so I'll just refer to this as a "condiment" for now. I do wish I could eventually come up with a jazzier name, because this saucy spread really jazzes up whatever it touches.


This "condiment" is great served hot, or cold, and is a wonderful topping for fresh bread or crackers. I also like to eat it on top of polenta (similar to a recipe in Ottolenghi's "Jerusalem"), or as a dip with pita chips. Enjoy this dish on it's own, or watch it transform into something new when mixed with thick yogurt. Toss in chickpeas to make it into a meal, and adjust the heat to your liking. It is truly a versatile food!

Eggplant & Tomato Relish
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
4 - 5 medium canned plum tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp each: chopped oregano, cilantro & parsley
1 tbsp sambal olek chili sauce, or more to taste

method
Heat oil in large pan or wok. Cook eggplant over medium-high heat, until reduced in size and browned. Oil will first be absorbed, then will separate. Drain eggplant and return to pan with tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato paste. Add sugar, salt, lemon juice. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until eggplant and tomatoes begin to homogenize. Add herbs and chili sauce and cook for 2 more minutes. Serve warm or cold.








Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Best Ever Eggplant & Chickpea Curry (that just happens to be vegan!)


I'll begin this entry by stating that curry is one of my absolute favorite foods. As I love it so much, I am also quite critical and picky when it comes to finding good curry. Before I show you how to make the tastiest eggplant curry you'll ever have, I'd like to teach you a few things about curry itself.

First off, let me just clarify that curry is not a spice, contrary to popular belief. There exists an herb called the curry leaf, though it is nothing at all like the yellow, processed powder that North Americans refer to as "curry." This blended curry spice is entirely of western origin, dating back to the 18th Century, presumably sold by Indian merchants to the British.

So what makes curry curry? The answer to that differs depending on who you're talking to. One thing all curries have in common: a complex blend of flavours and spices, that are often (but not always) enhanced with different types of chilli peppers. There are more varieties of curry than there are christmas cookies, and their ingredients differ by region, ethnicity, and cultural background. For example, a thai curry will often feature lemongrass, ginger and coconut, whereas an Indian curry will usually contain a mixture of turmeric, coriander and cumin.

The majority of the curries that I cook are Indian style, but are not necessarily traditional. A friend of mine, who is from India, taught me that an authentic curry from her region will make your ears burn and your eyes tear up, but will be so deliciously addictive that it's worth building up a spice tolerance for.  For months, I watched her make her curries, throwing handfuls of spices in, which seemed, at the time, to be tossed in at random, in abundant quantities. I later learned that she must have known exactly what she was doing though, because through lots of trial (and some error) I have discovered that blending the correct amount of spices is an art form. Certain spices, like fenugreek, can add wonderful complexity, but if overused, can leave you with a terribly bitter aftertaste. Others, like cinnamon, may get lost in the mix if you don't add enough.

Today's curry is a simple one, with a spice level that you can easily control. It's great for those who aren't too familiar with Indian food, and who want to try something different. Let me stress, especially if you've never made curry before, to follow these instructions exactly. Too many times, I've seen comments on recipe blogs from users who have "tested" out a recipe, having made so many alterations that the recipe isn't at all what it was meant to be, and then they complain that it didn't taste good. (Well, yeah, if you're making chocolate cookies, and you decide to replace the chocolate with kale, it's going to taste a little weird, geniuses!)  /endrant. As with all recipes, I suggest that you follow this exactly, and adjust to taste only at the end (with salt or spice.) Organizational note: I roasted my eggplant the day before to allow for a faster weeknight meal prep.

Now... the recipe you've all been waiting for...

The Best Ever Eggplant and Chickpea Curry
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients

1 large eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch salt

2 tbsp butter (or coconut oil, to keep it vegan!)
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with mortar and pestle
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp cumin powder
pinch turmeric
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 large handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup water (more if needed)
1 tbsp sambal oelek  (found in most major grocery stores in the International/Asian section)
salt, to taste

instructions

Roast your eggplant: Slice in half, lengthwise, and rub it all over with olive oil. Sprinkle the fleshy side with salt. Place flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast at 400F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until skin begins to bubble and shrivel. Allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh out, roughly chop, and reserve in a bowl for later.

In a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt your butter/coconut oil. Add the onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is golden in colour (about 10 minutes). Be careful not to burn the onion. When onion starts to become golden, add the coriander seed and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rest of your ingredients except the cilantro and sambal olek. Stir. Cover and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring intermittently. (If you notice your curry looks too dry, add a bit more water, 1 tbsp at a time.) Remove lid and add cilantro and sambal olek. Stir and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached. Salt to taste. Serve over basmati rice, or with chapati bread.







Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2015

It's the most wonderful time of the year... The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! This year, I opted for a simple cookie that could easily be transformed. Enter the Brown Sugar Cookie - made three ways!

One is filled with nutella, topped with cocoa. The other is filled with and rolled in sesame goodness. And finally, the simple pleasure of a brown sugar vanilla cookie, perfect on it's own with a hot cuppa tea.

The best part about these cookies is that they use ingredients that you likely have in the house. Brown sugar, butter, flour and eggs. The rest is up to you! You can get cute with them and toss in some non pareils for funfetti cookies. You can get festive and top them with crushed candy canes. You can even go exotic and mix in some candied ginger and cinnamon. Easy and quick, these are great to give as gifts, and, according to my three recipients, ship quite well!

I found the original recipe here and tweaked it just a bit. I added a table spoonful of molasses for some extra brown sugary goodness. Also, I made two alternate versions: one rolled in sesame seeds, and one filled with some nutella. To fill cookies: make a ball, press your thumb into the centre, pipe in nutella, pinch closed, flatten slightly with a spoon & bake!

Everything else is exactly as the original recipe states.

Until next year, happy cookiedays and merry #fbcookieswap all!


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Frittata Frittata


Is there anything prettier than a frittata? When done right, this easy meal makes for a stellar sunday brunch centrepiece. The awesome thing about these that the variation possibilities are endless. Veggies, meats, cheeses... Mix and match your favourite combo, arrange it in the dish, pour your egg mixture over it, bake, and voila! Frittata magic.

Some of my favourite variations:

Smoked gouda & figs
Olives, arugula & feta
Pears & brie
Bell peppers, cheddar & mushrooms
Cheddar & apple
Chard & chile

So go ahead, impress your guests & get your frittata on!

Spinach, Goat Cheese & Tomato Frittata
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients
6 large eggs
1/4 cup cream (15% or higher)
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 log goat cheese, crumbled
salt, pepper & fresh thyme
oil or butter, for greasing

method
Whisk cornstarch into cream. Whisk eggs with cream mixture until frothy. Mix in goat cheese, spinach and spices. Pour into greased 9" or 10" shallow round baking dish. Arrange cherry tomatoes on top. Bake at 325F for about 25 minutes, until eggs are set and no longer runny. Serve hot.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stuffed Dates with Pistachios



Quick! You just found out that you have guests coming over and you haven't had time to cook up any appetizers. You know they're going to be hungry as soon as they walk in the door. What do you do? Simple. You make these stuffed dates, of course! These babies have been a lifesaver for me, time and again. So quick to throw together, and always a hit. It's a little sweet and savoury gourmet at your fingertips. Make a couple right now, just to see what all the hype is about. But, be warned. These beauties are highly addictive. I got the idea for these at a NYE gathering one year. The host had put out something very similar, using pine nuts instead. I happened to have pistachios at home when I decided to try it out. If you want to add a really interesting middle eastern twist, you can try adding a tiny drop of rosewater and a pinch of cardamom to the cheese. Note that rosewater isn't for everyone, though I think it works perfectly in this setting.

Stuffed Dates with Pistachios and Honey
makes 24

24 medjool dates, pits removed
1 tub old fashioned cream cheese (Liberté brand, if you're in Canada) or plain goat cheese
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
Honey, for garnish
Rosewater (optional)
Cardamom (optional)

Open up your dates on the long side, removing the pit and creating an opening to hold the cheese. (If using rosewater and cardamom, mix into cheese now!) Spread cheese inside and top with pistachios. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with honey.
(Seriously, seriously simple.)


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stewed Chickpeas with Caramelized Sweet Potato


Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi have written some of the most delicious recipes that I have ever tried. The pair have a way of taking whole foods and transforming them into vibrant, flavourful dishes that absolutely never disappoint. For those of you who aren't familiar with the duo, they are the co-authors of the Ottolenghi and Jerusalem cookbooks. Ottolenghi has also published two excellent vegetarian books, Plenty, and Plenty More, collections of recipes from his vegetarian newspaper column over at the Guardian. Whenever I'm in need of inspiration, I flip one of these gorgeous books open, scan around, and stop at whatever catches my eye, or whatever suits the vegetables in my fridge. I am in no way affiliated with these authors, and this isn't a promotion. This is just a little fangirl blogging about her biggest inspirations!

This weekend, I was invited to a very meat-centric potluck dinner, so I felt it appropriate to provide a hearty vegetarian option for those of us who are slightly less carnivorous. I wanted to make something simple, but that had a complex flavour profile. Enter this colourful dish - stewed chickpeas with caramelized sweet potatoes. Sounds simple, but Oh. Baby. I want to eat this stuff all day, erry day. Now, note that you can probably make this vegan by subbing coconut oil for the butter, but really, if there's ever a time to use butter, that time is now. Replacing it would be, just... well, it would be just OK. It would kinda be like the difference between going to see a Stones cover band, or seeing the actual Rolling Stones. The butter is Mick Jagger. You just won't get the same satisfaction. (See what I did there? Ok, ok, I'll get on with it.)

This recipe is a variation of the recipe titled Chickpeas and Spinach with Honeyed Sweet Potato (Ottolenghi, 82.) In the spirit of respecting intellectual property, I always like to give credit to those recipe authors who have inspired me, so, thank you kindly, Ottolenghi & Tamimi. You made my potluck dish a big hit!

Stewed Chickpeas with Caramelized Sweet Potato
serves 3 to 4 people

ingredients
500g sweet potato, cubed
50g salted butter
4 tbsp honey
3 cups water

3 tbsp oil
1 small onion (or about 6 shallots), finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp corriander seeds
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 can (591ml) chopped, unseasoned tomatoes (no salt added is preferable)
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp mango powder (found in most spice stores, Indian or Asian grocers, or bulk stores.)
(note: if you can't find mango powder, 1 tsp of lemon juice or zest will also work.)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups torn spinach (or baby spinach)
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro

cayenne pepper, to taste (use more if you like it spicy!)
salt, to taste

method
In a wide pot, bring water with potatoes, butter and honey to a boil. Lower heat to medium, and continue to cook until water is absorbed and butter & honey start to caramelize. Do not stir.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large frying pan. Add onions or shallots, and cook over medium heat, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add cumin and corriander seeds. Continue cooking until onions are brown and have reduced, about 3 more minutes. Add ketchup and stir, scraping any brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Add canned tomatoes with their juice. Add ginger, cumin and mango powder. Stir well. When mixture starts to bubble, add chickpeas and spinach. Continue to cook until mixture starts to thicken. Add cilantro after about 10 minutes. Taste, and add salt as needed. Add cayenne , a little at a time, until you've reached your preferred level of heat. By this time, your potatoes should be ready, or almost there. Once they are, pour them into the pan, along with their buttery juices. Scrape as much of the browned butter into the pan as possible. Give it one nice, gentle stir.

Serve hot, garnished with fresh cilantro.










Friday, November 13, 2015

Green Pea Soup with Roasted Chickpeas


Last week, I posted about Brussels sprouts, the little green vegetables trying to shed their bad reputation. Today, I'll spotlight another miniature green friend, who often gets tossed under the rug (or fed to the dog.) Please, allow me to re-introduce you to the humble sweet green pea. Often cooked until mushy, overdone, brown, or, to the horror of many, straight out of the can (yuck!) peas were never a favourite of mine. Little did I realize that in another state, these little veggies could pack a flavourful punch. Some may even consider them gourmet (pea froth garnish, anyone?).
It wasn't until I attended a wedding this summer that I realized that green peas make a wonderful soup. Born and raised in Quebec, "pea soup," to me has always meant that of the yellow variety, with little chunks of ham and maple syrup. Not that I don't love that one - I do! It's part of our culture, a taste of our heritage. I just wasn't aware that there was another pea, hiding from the spotlight, that could create a wonderfully aromatic, complex, naturally creamy soup, almost entirely on it's own! 
And oh, that colour though!

Creamy Pea Soup with Roasted Chickpeas
an original recipe by allison sklar

soup ingredients
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp oil or butter
2 cups frozen green peas
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup water
salt & pepper, to taste

chickpea ingredients
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp sumac
2 tbsp oil

Roasted chickpeas: Preheat oven to 400F. Toss chickpeas with oil and spices. Lay on parchment lined baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, until crisp. 

Soup: Heat oil (or butter) in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, cooking until translucent. Add water, parsley and peas. Turn up heat to high, bring to a boil. Transfer mixture to blender & blend until completely smooth. Serve hot, garnished with chickpeas. 






Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Honey Roasted Brussels Sprouts


Brussels sprouts. Known only to some as "that food in movies that kids never eat," Brussels sprouts have gotten a bad rap over the years, possibly due to the fact that people have been cooking them the wrong way. However, there is a reason that they've been experiencing a resurgence - and you'll probably see them make an appearance a lot more often this Thanksgiving, Christmas & holiday season. These miniature cabbages of joy are sprouting up everywhere from upscale restos to food network kitchens. New age foodies have learned that when prepared and heated correctly, these little green powerhouses make for a tasty, tender, buttery dish. Now, what I'm about to say may shock you, so brace yourselves - YOU DON'T HAVE TO ADD BACON! I know, I know. Forget what all those other foodie sites & food network stars tell you. The secret to brussels sprouts that taste good ISN'T bacon. The secret is proper cooking time. To me, bacon is a cop-out. You're basically adding it to mask the flavour that you don't like. Thing is, if you make these little babies properly, they're so delicious on their own that you don't need the bacon at all. In fact, bacon would only distract from the natural tastiness. Before we get started, let me give you a few other pointers that'll help amp up your brussels sprouts game in the future.

3 Things not to do with brussels sprouts:
1. Do not boil the living daylights out of them.
2. Do not boil the living daylights out of them.
3. Do not boil the living daylights out of them.

Great! Now that we've got that covered, remember: do not boil your brussels sprouts. This is a surefire way to make sure you'll never eat them again. They become soggy, bitter, and truly unpalatable.

3 Things you should do with brussels sprouts:
1. Leave whole & steam them.
2. Finely chop & pan-fry them.
3. Half, glaze & roast them.

Today, I'm going to show you how to glaze and roast the tastiest brussels sprouts you've ever had.
So heat up your ovens, and get your sprout show on!

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Honey Glaze
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients
2 cups brussels sprouts, chopped in half, woody bottoms removed
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp oil
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together honey and oil until homogenous. (If you're having trouble stirring, it helps to heat the honey slightly in the microwave.) Add salt, pepper & cayenne. Toss brussels sprouts to coat. Transfer to greased baking dish (8"square should do the trick!). Roast in preheated oven at 400F for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring half way through. They are ready when golden and very tender.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sweet Potato Gnudi


Ah, pasta dumplings. One of life's simplest pleasures! I saw this gnudi recipe a while back in Chatelaine magazine, and I (in my old-school ways) marked it with a post-it for later. I stumbled upon it again recently, and I can't believe I've waited so long to make these. You really don't need to be an expert chef to whip up your very own batch at home, impressing your entire household along the way. The recipe comes together quickly, making it a perfect weeknight meal. What's more, their neutral flavour lends beautifully to a variety of sauces, toppings, & even soups. While the boy ate his portion topped with some osso buco, I enjoyed mine on their own, tossed with a bit of crumbled goat cheese. The cheese melts and sticks nicely, creating a beautiful burst of flavour in every bite!

Sweet Potato Gnudi
inspired by Chatelaine magazine

400g sweet potato (about 1 medium)
200g potato (about 1 small)
3-4 tbsp oil, as needed
3 egg yolks
1 cup flour
pinch sea salt

Prick potatoes with a fork all over and microwave whole potatoes until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes each. (Or, if you prefer, cut into cubes, boil until very tender, and drain.) Let cool about 10 minutes. Cut in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl. Mash by hand, adding oil to make them extra smooth. Mash in egg yolks and salt. Add flour, a bit at a time, until fully incorporated.

Boil a large pot of water. Fill a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag, with some of the dough. Cut off the tip. Holding your bag over the water, pipe out into 1-inch sections, cutting with kitchen scissors and dropping into pot. Gnudi are ready when they float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon. Serve warm.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pumpkin Cream Pie




Dearest readers,

I know, I know, I've been gone for much too long. Sorry for the hiatus. I've been busy travelling, eating, baking and new-job-a-workin'. You can catch up with all of that thanks to the wonderful world of Instagram, where you can see my travel food posts (here!) and see my baking (here!)
Hear, hear, it is now time for a brand new recipe. I never grew up eating pumpkin pie, so, in all honesty, I'm not quite sure what defines a "good" pumpkin pie to most North Americans. What I can tell you though, is that THIS pie is the bees knees. It's the creamiest, fluffiest, pie-i-est pies I've ever made, and I just had to share it with you all. And, it's perfectly in season, perfectly in time for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, and any other fall-themed dinners or dinner parties you may be attending. It comes together quickly, and disappears even faster. I wish I had a photo of the actual sliced open pie, but alas, no time, as it was instantly gobbled up.

Best Pumpkin Cream Pie Ever
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients

pie filling:
1 brick (250g) cream cheese - room temp
1/4 cup butter (approx 56g) - room temp
250g (approx 1 cup) puréed pumpkin*
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
pinch salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp allspice

crust:
1 sleeve of Maria Milk Cookies (Social Tea should work if you can't find Maria!)
5 tsp brown sugar
1/4 cup (56g) butter

Line the bottom of a 9" springform pan with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse the Maria Cookies, 5tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 cup butter until crumbly. Press mixture into bottom of pan, and up the sides to form a shell.

In stand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until smooth, intermittently scraping down the sides.
Add pumpkin, egg yolks, brown sugar and sour cream. Continue beating until fully incorporated. Add spices, beat for another 30 seconds.

Pour pie filling into crust. Bake at 325F for 1 hour. Let cool at room temp, then transfer to fridge and cool for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Tip: try not to eat it all in one serving. Or do. It's basically happiness on a plate.

*I use E.D. Smith canned pumpkin (NOT the pie filling, just the pure pumpkin.) I absolutely love it. I don't consider it "cheating" at all. I've done the whole "real" pumpkin thing before, and it's totally not worth the time, the mess or the hassle.