Sunday, May 26, 2013

farewell to the East End... hello to Christie Pits!

Since I moved to Toronto 21 months ago (Quick aside: I can't believe how quickly nearly two years passed!), I've been tucked away in a quiet corner of the city. Just between the Beaches and Leslieville, a short jaunt from the shoreline of Lake Ontario, surrounded by dogs, babies, prams, and young parents. It was a good inroad into the city after Hampstead and Highgate - much of the same, minus the Heath. But over that time, a couple of things began to drive me a little bit crazy: my tiny kitchen (smaller than Rachel Khoo's!), the incredibly long commute into town (2 buses and 2 trains to get to work!), and the lack of visitors... because everyone I know lives on the west end.

So next weekend I'm moving - leaving my otherwise stunning apartment and garden - to a small, bright, second-floor apartment near Christie Pits. I'm moving in with my best friend on the planet, Rachel, so I won't be able to complain that my friends never come over... I'll probably do the opposite! I'm leaving the lake, parks, and seclusion for people my own age (!), bicycles, coffee, and convenience. And I can't wait.



Today, however, was the first Leslieville Farmers Market of the season. First... and last for me. I've been getting my veg box all winter through the LFM via Highmark Farms (who, incidentally, are the nicest guys on the planet - I'll continue to shop with them when I move west towards Wychwood Barns Farmers Market), but today I got to have one last walk around the carnivalesque market that first hooked me when I moved to Toronto. And I got a little sad.


Because in truth, this neighbourhood has been very good for me. It gave me a bit of the lifestyle I'd been used to in London when I first came to Toronto. But after two years I'm ready to try Toronto on its own terms. And with a bigger, better, brighter kitchen. So expect food. Expect blogging. Once I pass my first PhD comprehensive exam (fingers crossed!) in two weeks, I'll be back. Until then, if you happen to be on the east end, drop by the Leslieville Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. And pop by Bonne Journée, a tiny French bakery on Queen Street East, for some of the loveliest croissants around. I'll certainly miss this corner of the world.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

rose creams.


I admit that I've been a bit remiss with the blog this past year. What can I say? PhDs take up a lot of time. I got distracted by a smattering of things. My tiny kitchen finally got the better of me. I know the cliché about blaming your tools, but seriously... my tiny kitchen makes me want to stab myself with my otherwise brilliant kitchen tools. It's impossible at times. But, like so many things, it's not forever.

Some things are meant to come and go. Tiny kitchens. Romances. Bouts of homesickness. But the one thing I really didn't want to end was my box of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates. I received them on my birthday back in August and somehow, miraculously, managed to ration them until this week, when I ate the final chocolate. My favourite. A rose cream.

I can't quite describe these tiny gems other than to say that they are so childishly sweet, grandmotherishly floral, and ever so slightly bittered by their dark chocolate shell. Pale pink fondant, laced with rose water, perfect for quietly nibbling on with a cup of tea in hand. You don't need many of these. After all, I saved a single one for five months!


*****

400 gr. icing sugar (give or take)
3 Tbsp. rose water
2 Tbsp. double cream
1/2 tsp. beetroot juice (for pink colouring, optional)
4 oz. dark chocolate
1 tsp. vegetable oil

1. Mix your icing sugar, rose water, cream, and beetroot juice until you have a thick, dry paste. It should be dry enough to gently knead by hand, so add more icing sugar if needed. It should form a soft 'dough'. Knead for a minute, then chill for twenty minutes.

2. Take bean-sized bits of the fondant and roll into small ball shapes. Place them on a piece of parchment and chill for a further ten minutes.

3. Over a double boiler, melt your chocolate and oil together. Once melted, dip each ball of fondant into the chocolate, dripping off any excess, and leave to cool on a sheet of parchment. Chill.


Best eaten cool, with a cup of bitter tea, while listening to (reviving an old tradition!) Blue Roses (Laura Groves).

Monday, July 23, 2012

charred tofu and noodle salad.


Bear with me. There are noodles in this dish. There is also iceberg lettuce, tofu, aubergine, courgette, and onion. But I absolutely promise it works, even if it seems a bit bizarre.

It's a summery, warm-cold bowl of salty, sweet, spicy deliciousness. And it's ideal for what seems to be the one week of summer that has belatedly arrived. The crisp lettuce, which usually wouldn't get past my supermarket basket, brightens up the marinated, almost-blackened tofu. Noodles add some bulk and soak up the garlicky soy dressing. And I would hasten to add that it barely contains any oil, if you are conscious of such things (which I am not).

*****

1/2 block firm tofu, sliced into 1 cm thick squares
1 small aubergine, sliced into 1/2 cm rounds
1 courgette, sliced into 1/2 cm rounds
1/4 white onion, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
2 cups or so of iceberg lettuce, washed, dried, and set aside for serving
100 grams egg noodles, cooked, rinsed, and cooled
chopped flat leaf parsley for garnishing

Marinade:
3 Tbsp. tamari
2 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. red chilli, diced or jarred
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. honey
3 Tbsp. water

Dressing:
2 Tbsp. tamari
1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. maple syrup

1. Begin by mixing your marinade, then soak the tofu squares for about twenty minutes in the marinade. 2. Cook the tofu slices in a hot wok or under the grill until browned, about five minutes per side, and then set aside. Reserve the marinade. 3. In a wok, stirfry your aubergine, courgette, and onion until soft, and then pour over your remaining marinade. Quickly stir in your spring onions and noodles and remove from heat. 4. Mix the ingredients for your dressing. 5. In a large bowl, serve your lettuce, noodles and vegetables. Top with tofu squares, dress, and sprinkle over some parsley (or mint or Thai basil would work well also) before serving.

Monday, July 16, 2012

strawberry and elderflower jam.

Somewhat stylised jam. 

It's summertime in Britain, so it's very cold and grey. Naturally. But my attitude is that if you want to live in Britain and also want to enjoy summer, you need intense powers of optimism and imagination. I have these in spades, and have thus been enjoying a summer of swimming, ice cream, and rambling on the Heath under the greyest of skies.

This was all very effective until today. Today, mid-July, I'm freezing. I'm damp. I feel like I can't get warm, and consequently feel incredibly morose. Nothing seems to be right today. Which is how I found my way to the kitchen - that place I so rarely find myself these days.

I'm determined to cheer up, though, and likewise determined to restore that feeling of summer. I've rescued the punnet of strawberries that was going off on the kitchen table by turning it to jam. Along with a splash of the elderflower cordial I made a few weeks back. If this jewel-like, floral concoction doesn't make the sun come out, nothing will.

*****

1/2 punnet strawberries, stalked and halved
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. elderflower cordial
1/2 lemon, squeezed

1. Bring all the ingredients to a simmer in a small pot. As the strawberries begin to soften, press them with the back of a spoon to make the texture more consistent. 2. Simmer for about 25-30 minutes, until slightly reduced, or until the jam sets when spooned onto a cold plate. 3. Pour out into sterilised jars, seal, and leave to cool.

You can either process this jam so it keeps, or eat within a month and refrigerate after opening.

Friday, May 11, 2012

may lunches: linguine with peas and capers.



There are few joys greater than a sunny springtime lunch eaten in the garden. It's probably in my top three list of most important keys to happiness. Al fresco dining on the whole, really. I'll eat anything outside - on a table, on the grass, on the steps.

When I've little in the cupboards, though, a fresh springtime meal can be hard. Where I'd normally opt for fresh greens, coriander, noodles, I've none. But store cupboard and freezer staples are always available - and this dish is made up entirely of such standbys.

Peas, onions, capers. Perfectly cooked linguine. A shaving of parmesan. Believe it or not, I was out of olive oil when I made this so the whole thing is done with butter - that can only be an asset. A good spoonful of chili flakes and it makes a salty, fresh, spicy bowl of sunshine. By which I obviously mean a damn good bowl of pasta.

*****

100 grams linguine
1 small onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 Tbsp. capers, chopped
a handful of grated parmesan
a good knob of butter
a pinch of chili

1. Bring some water to a boil, salt, and cook your pasta. 2. Meanwhile, soften your onions over medium heat in a bit of butter. 3. Once your onions are soft and the pasta almost cooked, toss your peas in the pan with the onions, stir in your capers, and season with salt and pepper. Toss in your chili. 4. Drain your pasta, reserving a few spoonfuls of the cooking water, and then stir both through your peas and onions. Season, add a bit more butter, and then serve with lots of parmesan.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

a return to the kitchen: strawberry, maple, and oat coffee cake



Wow. I surely didn't think my absence would stretch on quite so long. Likewise, I didn't think my essays would either.

The most troubling thing about my neglect of this blog is that it has been mirrored, for the most part, in the kitchen. I now firmly believe that it was easier to cook and eat well when I had full-time work than it is when I'm in school and spending most of my days at home. How that works is beyond me, but my diet of burritos and coffee will serve as proof.


It's not the same as it used to be - I used to bake a cake almost weekly. With my old flatmates, this meant sugary-sweet sponges. After that it was sugar-free loaves and biscuits. And now... well, I haven't figured out who I'm baking for but I do know that I still enjoy it. Immensely. And bringing together the two facets of my previous baking eras, I've gone for a sugar-free cake with a sugar-filled topping. It makes little sense, but it works for me.

The maple-soaked loaf cake, nutty with oats, speckled with pink strawberries - I added a few finely chopped bits of rosemary to round it out. It's topped with a buttery, sugary, oat streusel, which cools to a delicate, lace-like crunch. Throw in a cup of coffee and my afternoons will be significantly improved.


I based the cake recipe loosely on Heidi Swanson's, here at 101 Cookbooks.

*****

1 cup pastry flour
3 Tbsp. rolled oats
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. bicarb
1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1/4 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup buttermilk
a handful strawberries, quartered


1. Sift together your dry ingredients and set aside. 2. In a mixer, cream your butter until light and fluffy, then pour in your maple syrup, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk bit by bit. Mix until fairly, though not entirely smooth - about two minutes. 3. Spoon in your flour mix a few spoonfuls at a time while mixing, until the entire mix is smooth. 4. Stir in your strawberries by hand, then spoon the batter into a lined loaf tin. 5. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 F (180 C). Remove from oven once just set in order to top with streusel topping.


For the streusel you need:
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup flour
a handful of porridge oats


1. Mix the ingredients together until smooth. 2. Spread over the top of your cake and then return the whole thing to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the edges of the streusel are just golden brown. Let cool a bit before turning out of the pan. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

a brief status update...

I've been absent the past few months. With good reason, I hope - PhDs seem to take up a lot of time. This is demonstrative of my current life:

1 p.m.


4 p.m.



So I should be emerging from this mass of work soon - and as I'll be back in London for a summer in the British Library, hope to be getting back to the usual cooking and blogging with treats from Parliament Hill Farmers' Market. Here's hoping!
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