November 29, 2011

Chocolate Truffles

Do you ever go through those periods of time where you feel like you've been tipped off your centre of gravity and you need to regain your balance? I've been feeling overworked and tired for a while, and feeling the accumulated stress of spending way too many hours a day in front of a computer screen, going to bed late, not exercising enough, and most importantly, not having enough FUN! So last week when a friend decided to have some girlfriends over for a Saturday evening chill-out with cheese and wine by the fireplace, my whole week turned into one giant countdown to Saturday night. It turns out spending an evening with a group of smart, witty, inspiring women was exactly what I needed to get myself back on track with the important things in life. And not to get all geeky and schmaltzy about it but, hanging out with your girlfriends, it turns out, is scientifically proven to be good not only for for your emotional well being but also physically, since it actually lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and promotes healing. And for that matter, so does chocolate!!! Of course that is the only reason why I brought chocolate truffles to our soiree... for the sake of our good health.

I've been making truffles every Christmas for years. I love making different flavours and packaging them up on a bed of pine needles. They make perfect presents. But as I discovered on Saturday, they are also just the thing to bring to a gathering. Make the chocolate mixture in advance (since it needs several hours to chill in the fridge before rolling into balls), and then bring it with you and have everyone roll them out together. The great thing about truffles is that they are dead easy to make AND heavenly to eat. And you get to whip out your creative flair when it comes to dreaming up various flavours. For Saturday's truffles, I divided my chocolate mixture into 3 batches and flavoured each one as follows:
  1. Rosemary Tangerine (rosemary & grated tangerine rind & a splash of lemon liqueur)
  2. Raspberry Lavender (dried lavender & raspberry vodka)
  3. Cardamom, Nutmeg, and Black Pepper (all freshly ground, this was my favorite, it tasted like chai)
On Sunday morning I woke up with a slight chocolate hangover I have to admit, but I got shit organized, went to zumba class, went to bed early, and generally felt like my life was magically back in balance. The combined miracle of friends & chocolate.

Chocolate Truffles from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (35%)
300 grams / 10.5 oz chocolate (use dark, organic & fair trade whenever possible)
2 tbsp butter (or omit the butter and add 2 extra tbsp cream)
2 Tbsp liqueur of choice (this is optional)
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp cocoa powder for rolling (or chopped nuts, crushed candy, whatever suits your fancy)

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and butter on medium heat. Remove from heat when the butter is melted and the cream is hot, just before it starts to boil. Chop the chocolate into pieces and add it to the cream and butter mixture. Add a pinch of salt (salt brings out the flavour of chocolate). Stir to melt all the chocolate. If the chocolate doesn't melt completely, you can place it on top of a saucepan filled with boiling water water, just until it melts. 

Add your flavours of choice (spices, mint extract, rum, amaretto, espresso, etc...). Mix well and then cover the saucepan and place it in the fridge for about 3 hours or overnight. Remove from fridge and shape into little balls. Roll the balls in cocoa powder, or chopped nuts, or crushed candy cane. (Keep in mind, the balls do not have to be perfect, truffles are after all named after these weird-looking but delicious fungi).

Enjoy, share & be merry!

November 24, 2011

Raw Milk Rally

Today I'm taking you out of my kitchen for a little jaunt down to Queen's Park in downtown Toronto and yesterday's raw milk rally with dairy farmer Michael Schmidt. According to Canadian law, Michael Schmidt is a serious criminal. His crime: selling unpasteurized milk. In 2006 his farm was raided by 25 armed police and since then he has been in and out of the courts fighting a battle for the right to sell raw milk. He recently completed a 37-day hunger strike resulting in Premier McGuinty finally agreeing to speak with him and starting some dialogue on this issue.

To me, our criminalization of raw milk is a sign of how lost we have become as a society, and in a sense how we have fundamentally lost our basic human dignity when it comes to the foods we eat. The world we live in is mind-boggling. Canada sells asbestos, a proven carcinogen, to other countries even though it's banned here. We allow corporations whose listeria-tainted processed meat killed 20 people in 2008 to continue to sell us the same mystery meat. Our store shelves are full of unlabelled, patented genetically engineered foods with unknown long-term consequences. We can buy cigarettes, guns, fast food, which all have the potential to kill us, yet we can't access the most basic and nourishing substance around.  

Recently I spent some time in Maine where I got to drink delicious raw milk from a local farm, because it is legal there, like in many other states. What a treat that was! There are many reasons to chose raw over pasteurized. Peer-reviewed research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that children who drink raw milk have a 41% lower risk of asthma and a 50% lower risk of allergies, compared to children who drank pasteurized milk. Shouldn't it be up to us to weigh the risks & benefits of drinking raw milk and make our own decisions about whether we want to drink it or not? I'll leave it at that for now, since it's a complex issue and I need to get to work. I think the video speaks for itself… let's just say that rally got me RILED UP! So raw raw raw!  Please sign the petition of support regarding Michael Schmidt's sentencing hearing tomorrow (November 25). Also, speaking of dairy, stay tuned for a recipe made up mostly of whipped cream (sadly not raw because then the RCMP might have to raid my kitchen!). Oh and that roasted red ketchup video I promised a long time ago is just about done, finally, so you'll be seeing that soon too!

Raw Milk Rally in Toronto from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

November 18, 2011

Leek Tatin

Have you ever watched a leek plant blooming?  It is so beautiful. Big globes of tiny white flowers bursting out of pointy hats. My mom used to plant leeks in her garden every year but I don't remember ever eating them out of there. I have a suspicion that she planted them simply because she loved the flowers so much. My dad has continued the tradition. This summer, I spent hours in his garden, staring at those leeks and trying my hand at some time-lapse photography which you will see in the video. On such a chilly November evening, it's nice to reminisce about summer and the garden… 

Today's recipe is a leeky and savoury variation on one of my all-time favourite desserts: Tarte Tatin. Tarte Tatin is an upside-down caramelized apple pie. (Yup. Heaven.) I have to admit that I tried making this recipe for you a while back, filmed it all, and when I got to the last step of flipping the damn thing over, it wouldn't budge. I had to pry it out of the pan and it was a total disaster, a giant sloppy mess and I figured I'd better find a solution so that you can make this recipe and trust in a happy ending. I found a solution, made it again last week, but I didn't pack the leeks tightly enough together and it came out all loose and wobbly and still not quite right. Which is frustrating because the first time I ever made it this recipe, many years ago, it turned out just right on the first try. I think maybe the pie got nervous in front of the camera. Anyway, the good thing about having messed it up a few times is I've got some precise instructions so that when you make it it will be perfect. And appropriately, the song in the video is called "recommencer" which means to start over again.

Leek Tatin from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

I believe I first found this recipe when I was staying with my beloved friend Marion's family in the French alps. Marion's mom is a prolific cook and has the most mouth-watering assortment of French cookbooks. I spent hours at her kitchen table going through them. Talk about a place I'd like to click my ruby slippers and be instantly transported to! My version of the recipe has 2 variations: goat cheese & also honey instead of sugar for the caramel. I'm using Bee Queen's wildflower honey, because well, I'm completely infatuated with this honey at the moment. My roommate got me started, she says she is going through a honey phase and apparently it is highly contagious because guess who polished off a half jar of honey in just 4 days?! (I seriously need to get a grip.) I bought some fresh walnuts in their shells last week and have been cracking them like crazy and dipping the pieces in massive gobs of honey. It's the best snack ever. You've got to try it. 

But in the meantime, onwards with upside-down caramelized leek & chèvre pie…

6 large leeks
3/4 cup honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
About 150 grams of goat cheese (more if you love goat cheese)

3/4 cup butter
1 2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 egg

Mix the softened butter with the flour and egg until a soft dough is formed. If too dry, add a tiny sprinkle of water. Roll out and set aside. Cut a piece of parchment paper into a circle to fit into the bottom of a standard pie plate. (Don't worry about the sides of the plate, just make sure it covers the bottom and overlaps on the sides just slightly). Butter the whole pie plate generously including sides, and butter the parchment paper. Place paper in the pie plate, buttered side up. Take off the first layer off the leek stems and clean any dirt away. Steam the leeks for about 10 minutes until they are soft but still maintaining their green colour. Drain and pat dry.

Make the caramel! Heat the honey in a pan on medium-low heat until it bubbles and starts to turn brown (but not burnt), around 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir vigorously. Put a few drops of the caramel in a bit of cold water to make sure the caramel hardens a bit (not into a hard ball but into a soft lump). If it just dissolves, keep cooking it longer. Immediately pour into the pie plate. (Do NOT spill on your fingers, it WILL hurt!) Cut the leeks into 1.5 cm pieces, keeping an eye out for dirt between the layers (the greener & higher up the stem you go, the more dirt there may be, so don't be afraid to peel off the first layers and use only the middle part. Sandy leeks can really ruin this recipe). Arrange the leek pieces cut side up on top of the caramel. Make sure they are packed nice and tight. Now roll out your goat cheese to make a large round shape. I find shaping it into a ball, sandwiching it between parchment paper and rolling it out works well. Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle. So long as it loosely fits over the leeks. Now roll out your pie dough and place on top of the cheese and leeks. Tuck in around the edges of the circle so that they tucked up tight and squishing right into the caramel. (Those bits of pie crust that sponge up the caramel are the yummiest).

Bake in a 350 F oven for around 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately place a plate on top of the pie and flip carefully. You can drizzle any leftover caramel and leek bits & crumbled goat cheese if you want to decorate. My friend Sacha made this pie (see comments below) and she suggests broiling the pie for a few minutes once it's flipped to crisp up the tops of the leeks which I think is a brilliant idea! I'll be doing that next time I make it.