Cranberry Cream Cheese Ice Cream

While thinking of this year’s Christmas dinner, I wanted a dessert befitting the grand scale of the meal. Firstly, I ordered a cake from one of my neighbourhood bakeries, but I also wanted something to go with it. Nothing goes better with cake than ice cream, so I decided on a cranberry infused ice cream since I was making my own cranberry sauce to accompany the meal.

With the usual egg yolk-thickened custard base, I also thought the added richness and different tartness of cream cheese would compliment the cranberry flavour beautifully. It was certainly a magical combination. And since this winter so far has been much warmer, by Canadian standards (that is, it’s not -40 degrees outside haha), the ice cream was a refreshing end to a big meal.

Cranberry Cream Cheese Ice Cream:

330g/12 oz whole cranberries, fresh or frozen

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 cup milk (2% or whole milk)

1-3/4 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup white sugar

5 egg yolks

1/3 cup white sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup cream cheese

   In a medium pot, add the cranberries and maple syrup. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook until the cranberries soften and burst (about 10 minutes). Purée until smooth, strain through a fine strainer. It should yield about 1 cup of maple cranberry purée. Set aside.

   In a medium pot over medium heat, add the milk, cream and 1/3 cup of sugar. Whisk together to dissolve the sugar and when the edges just start to froth and bubble, shy of boiling, take off the heat.

   While the milk mixture is heating, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and slightly thickened. When the milk mixture is warmed, ladle a quarter of it into the egg yolk mixture. Whisk until smooth. Add this egg yolk-milk mixture to the rest of the warmed milk mixture in the pot. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium low heat until it thickens to a custard. It should just coat the spoon with a thick glaze of custard. Take off the heat, transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in the maple cranberry purée, vanilla and cream cheese until it is smooth and uniformly combined. Chill for at least an hour before churning it in an ice cream machine. Most domestic, countertop ice cream machines say to churn for about 20-25 minutes. It’ll have the texture of soft serve ice cream. Transfer to a container with a tight fitting lid and freeze until firm (about 4 hours). Serves 4.

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Mandarin Orange Ginger Roast Chicken

During the Christmas season, the flavours of mandarin oranges are one of the best flavours. As I mentioned in a previous post, it has a lot to do with childhood nostalgia. Fun with my family, part of my stocking from Santa, the mandarin orange is as equal a part of the season as chocolate, big family dinners and Santa.

While putting together this dish, I thought of how to maximize the flavours of both the ginger and orange. The obvious choice was to grate the zest of the oranges and fold them into softened butter with finely grated fresh ginger. The juice’s acidity could wreak havoc with texture so I opted to only place the orange halves inside the cavity and in the roasting tray for subsequent finishing flavour. Another flavour boost of thickly sliced fresh ginger in the cavity also added to the heady orange perfume permeating throughout.

Finally, my gravy, like any other roasted poultry gravy involves puréeing the vegetables from the bottom of the roasting pan with more chicken stock and thickening it. With the flavours built up from the orange and ginger, the gravy was an absolute flavour bomb.

This was a great “roast beast” so to speak for a small Christmas gathering, but would be a great Sunday dinner anytime with regular oranges or even clementines or tangerines.

Mandarin Orange Ginger Roast Chicken:

1- 2.3 kg/5 lb whole roasting chicken

1/2 cup softened, unsalted butter

2 large mandarin oranges (or 4 small ones. Or 3-4 clementines)

2 Tbsp finely grated, peeled fresh ginger

1/4 cup fresh ginger, cut into thick slices

1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, roughly chopped

2 medium carrots, roughly chopped

2 medium parsnips, roughly chopped

2 cups chicken stock + 1 cup water

   Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

   In a small bowl, blend together the butter, grated ginger and zest from the oranges. Halve the oranges. Place two halves in the cavity of the chicken along with the sliced ginger. Rub the flavoured butter under the skin and over the entire chicken. Scatter the roughly chopped onion, celery, carrots and parsnips over the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the other two halves of orange nestled amidst the roasting vegetables. Add the stock and water. Tuck the wing tips under the chicken. Tie the legs together. Place on the roasting vegetables. Roast in the preheated oven for 75-90 minutes, basting every 15-20 minutes with the juices from the bottom of the pan. Remove from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a tray to rest for 20 minutes.

   To prepare the gravy, pour the roasting vegetables and juices to a blender. Purée until smooth. Pour the purée into a large pot. Add 2 more cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Blend together 3 Tbsp butter with 3 Tbsp of flour until a thick paste forms. Whisk this paste gradually into the puréed vegetable-dripping mixture. Bring back to a simmer and cook through until thickened. Squeeze in the roasted orange halves, if desired. If not, leave the orange halves for garnish to add to the cut chicken on the platter. Serves 6-8.

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Sugarplum Hoisin Sauce

While preparing my recent Christmas dinner, the invariable phrase “sugarplums dancing in their heads” rolled through my mind.

Recently, I was looking at hoisin sauce recipes and thought star anise and Chinese five spice powder were basically Christmas-y flavours. Along with the sweetness invariably attached, these flavours made up what was in the classic confection, sugarplums. Along with honey, the sweetness of sugarplums come from dried fruit of some kind. It’s binding was done with a ground nut of some kind. This flavour is often seen in hoisin sauce with the presence of nutty sesame seeds. The comparisons were so natural, at least to me and my overthinking food dork brain, that a Sugarplum Hoisin Sauce was born.

Sugarplum Hoisin Sauce:

2 Tbsp raisins

2 Tbsp dried cherries (or your favourite dried fruit)

2 Tbsp toasted walnuts (I simply toast them in a dry pan over medium high heat until golden, about 3-4 minutes)

2 Tbsp honey

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

   Grind the fennel seeds, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg together into a fine powder.

   Add the raisins, dried cherries, walnuts, honey, soy sauce, vinegar and ground spices to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes to soften the dried fruit. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth. If it’s too thick, add a few tablespoons of rice vinegar or water to thin the purée to your preferred texture. Makes about 1 cup. Good for one month in the refrigerator.

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To stir fry, add 1/4 cup prepared Sugarplum Hoisin Sauce to a wok over medium high heat along with 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock. Add 3 cups of thinly sliced mixed vegetables (bell peppers, carrots, celery, parsnips, snow peas, for example). Toss and stir constantly for 5-6 minutes. Allow most of the liquid to evaporate and cook the vegetables, coating the vegetables with the hoisin’s flavour. Serves 3-4 as a side.

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‘Twas the week ago Christmas…

After a wildly busy December doing a recipe every day during Advent, I did a day long adventure for Christmas dinner. After that, I barely looked at food, let alone blogging, so the posts attached to my Christmas dinner has waited until today. I’m going to separate it into a series of posts to keep each recipe on its own.

I started my Christmas Day with roasting chicken legs to make a chicken stock for later in the day. Nestled in a pot with onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, bay leaves and whole peppercorns, it simmered through half of the morning.

While my stock simmered, I prepared a simple cranberry sauce along with a cranberry purée that would be a part of the evening’s dessert, Cranberry Cream Cheese Ice Cream. I also bought a Christmas-y cake from one of my neighbourhood bakeries to add to the decadence.

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(Yes, the ice cream didn’t set as firmly as I would’ve liked for dinner, but that’s how it goes on a busy food day. Plus, soft serve style made for the perfect accompaniment to the moist vanilla cake)

Next on my Christmas dinner list was focusing on the vegetable side dish. I thought (daydreamed? 😉 ) of the idea of sugarplums and found that the traditional confection sugarplum has many ingredients or flavour elements in common with hoisin sauce, so I made a Sugarplum Hoisin Sauce that would be quickly stir-fried into some mixed vegetables at the last minute while my meat rested.

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Next, I thought of the meat. Since I was cooking for only me and my lady, I didn’t want to do a turkey and eat leftovers until February, so I opted for a nice roasting chicken. One of the flavours of Christmas that triggers the most nostalgia is mandarin oranges. Sweet little guys with a punch of flavour. And since orange and ginger are one of the best pairings out there, I went with a Mandarin Orange Ginger Roast Chicken. With the accompanying gravy made from the drippings and puréed roasting vegetables, it was the perfect pair.

As for stuffing, I’ve never been a “stuff the bird” kinda guy. Besides being a danger from a health standpoint, you can flavour a stuffing beautifully without using the bird’s drippings. Save the drippings for the gravy and douse your stuffing afterwards if you must! Early in the day, I thought it’d be a great idea to put small spoonfuls of prepared dressing into mini-muffin pans. It worked great! I used my Basic Stuffing recipe that I use for most holiday gatherings, be it Christmas or Thanksgiving.

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Finally, instead of mashed potatoes, I made my rustic Sour Cream Root Vegetable Mash that I’ve taken quite a liking to lately. I made it recently with a gingery steak, so I knew it would be perfect with the chicken I’d be preparing.

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When it was all said and done, it was one of the best meals I’ve prepared, if I do say so myself. I took my time with every detail, thinking it through completely and in the end, I could feel all the care and attention that was put into it. Sometimes, I disconnect myself from the food I cook. The perils of too many years in food service. But this meal brought me directly to the moment. The plate before me was a celebration of all the wonderful food that is grown and raised around me. It was the perfect representation of my appreciation for all the farmers and ranchers who work so hard every day to provide such a bounty. I’m fortunate every day to have that relationship with such wonderful people and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to have interest in anything I write. Every like, every comment, every interaction on this blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram mean a lot. Thanks for the moments that lead to my own growth as a cook and human being.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a holiday season filled with family and good food and may the New Year bring greater joy, greater growth and greater food moments!! 🙂

Mocha Mandarin Orange Whoopie Pies

As it draws closer to Christmas, I had the sudden urge to have mandarin oranges. My brother and I used to have little orange eating contests when we were younger. We’d line up half dozen or more of them for each of us, peeled and ready to go. We’d count down: 3, 2, 1….Go!! And gorge on the oranges, racing to beat our sibling. We’d both be dripping with orange juice and our mother wasn’t altogether impressed with this contest. Did I mention we were in our teens? Yup, we were definitely the mature ones of the four boys in the house.

That orange flavour always transports me back to those times and even earlier, when Santa would leave an orange in the toe of my stocking along with other goodies. As much as a big chocolate Santa is great, it was the orange that was always the best part.

Thinking of that chocolate Santa and the orange from my stocking, I wanted to make a dessert/treat to combine those flavours. I thought of the American classic treat: Whoopie Pie.

What is a Whoopie Pie?

For those not familiar with it, it sounds like a vague euphemism. It’s actually two cake-like cookies sandwiching a creamy frosting in the middle. The filling could be anything from a basic vanilla frosting to a marshmallow spread to something a little different, like my mandarin orange filling.

The other inspiration for this treat came from a non-food source. A music video. I listen to some unusual music sometimes and one such video involves a fictitious alien invasion to take away all of the Earth’s coffee. The invaders had warships that sort of looked like Whoopie Pies with an orange filling. So I thought between my fun childhood memories and a silly video, I’d make Mocha Mandarin Orange Whoopie Pies!! So ward off the alien attack and enjoy!!

Mocha Mandarin Orange Whoopie Pies:

For the Mocha Cake Cookie:

1/2 cup softened butter

1 cup white sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 cups + 2 Tbsp spelt flour

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup strong brewed coffee

   Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

   In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

   In a small bowl, combine the milk and coffee.

   In a stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat together the  butter, sugar and eggs until smooth and slightly thicker in texture (about 45-60 seconds). Add the vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds. Add 1/3 of the dry mixture, beating together until smooth. Add 1/3 of the coffee-milk mixture and beat until smooth. Add another 1/3 of the dry mixture, beating during each addition and when it’s smooth add the next 1/3 of the coffee-milk mixture. Beat together until smooth. Add the final 1/3 of the dry mixture and beat until smooth. Add the final 1/3 of the coffee-milk mixture and beat until a smooth batter is formed.

   Scoop 1/3 cup portions on the baking sheets, leaving at least 5cm/2″ between each portion. Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on the pans for 2 hours. While the cake cookies cool, you can do the filling.

For the Mandarin Orange Syrup:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed mandarin orange juice (about 3-5 oranges depending on size. Be sure to remove the zest from them before squeezing as well)

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup white sugar

   In a small pot, over medium high heat, add the juice, water and sugar. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and cool. Set aside.

For the Carrot-Orange Cream Cheese Filling:

2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 cup total)

1/2 cup Mandarin Orange Syrup

1/2 cup cream cheese

Zest of 2-3 mandarin oranges (about 2 Tbsp)

   In a small pot of boiling water, add the carrots. Cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until very soft. Drain away the water. Transfer the cooked carrots to a blender with the Mandarin Orange Syrup. Purée until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl with the orange zest and cream cheese. Stir together until smoothly combined.

To assemble:

   Turn one of the Mocha Cake Cookies so the flat side is facing up. Add a 1/3 cup dollop of prepared Carrot-Orange Cream Cheese Filling in the centre:

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Spread the filling to the edges and press the flat side of another Mocha Cake Cookie on top. There’s enough filling for about half of the cake cookies. The rest freezes beautifully and could be used as a cookie for ice cream sandwiches!!

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Green Onion Cakes with Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce

The city where I’m from, Edmonton, Canada, is known for embracing its multicultural heritage. From our beginnings with native peoples living off of the land in harmony with nature (and their own battles to be fair) to the growing European settlements over the last century plus. Being such a young region, a culinary identity of our own is relatively in its infancy compared to other parts of the world. This is both intimidating and incredibly empowering. We can create our own identity as we go along.

One such culinary creation that Edmonton has firmly attached to as its own is the green onion cake. Sometimes called a scallion pancake in many Chinese cultures, it is a lightly leavened or unleavened dough, folded with green onions like one would fold a croissant or puff pastry dough and fried. It is often served as a snack with a sambal dipping sauce. This dish has become iconic around Edmonton. From pubs to festivals to restaurants all around the city, it has been something to miss when away from town and to relish in every culinary situation.

It has begun to evolve as a flatbread to hold Turkish donair (another Edmonton culinary adoptee) or as a base for pizza. The green onion cake has come to represent the culinary evolution of this part of Canada. It shows how a new immigrant to our country can share his family’s background through food, become embraced as a valued citizen, not by government-issued certification, but by the collective enjoyment of a part of his culinary history.

I thought the next step in the green onion cake’s evolutionary history should involve using as many Edmonton area ingredients in the creation of this snack as possible. I enjoy the heritage wheat flour varieties from local farmer Gold Forest Grains, the cold pressed (extra virgin) oils from Mighty Trio Organics, and the green onions from Peas On Earth, another family of Chinese heritage who’s passion for growing Asian ingredients like green onions, bok choy and baby corn (seasonally) adds another level of passion and culinary history to the dish.

Is my version the definitive one? No. It is a dish, that in my hands, has its own character. We seem to seek words like “ultimate, perfect, best ever, or greatest” to describe food, or life in general and it doesn’t really exist. Food is a moment. A time to share that joy of preparation and subsequent flavour with others. A time to see how life can be unique and different at any given moment. So celebrate the uniqueness of your region, wherever that may be, smile and share it with those around you. This is a piece of my region. One moment in time.

Green Onion Cakes with Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce

For the Homemade Sambal Oelek:

6 or 7 long red finger chillis, roughly chopped, stems removed, seeds removed for a milder heat (I kept my seeds in)

1 tsp salt

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

   In a food processor, add the chopped chillis with the salt. Pulse and grind the chillis until just starting to come together. Add the vinegar and grind until the mixture starts to smooth out, but still very chunky. It can keep in the fridge for about a month. It’s good as a spicy addition to stir-frys, Asian noodle dishes or dipping sauces.

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For the Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce:

6 Tbsp strawberry jam (I used a locally produced variety from a nearby organic farm August Organics)

2 Tbsp Homemade Sambal Oelek (or store bought sambal oelek)

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

   In a small bowl, whisk together the strawberry jam, sambal and vinegar until uniformly combined.

For the Green Onion Cakes:

2 cups red fife wheat flour (spelt flour also works great; or other whole wheat flour)

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

7/8-1 cup water

2-3 Tbsp cold pressed flax oil (or other extra virgin oil)

2-3 tsp salt

1 bunch green onions, green part only, finely chopped (about 14-15 green onions)

Oil for frying

   In a medium bowl, combine the red fife flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the water and stir together with a fork until a loose dough starts to come together. Knead and press the dough while still in the bowl to gather as much of the dough together as possible. If the dough is too dry, add a bit of water. If the dough is too wet, add a bit of flour. This dough, because of its simplicity, can be greatly affected by environmental conditions (humidity, arid conditions, etc) or the ingredients themselves (older flour can be drier, fresher flour can have more inherent moisture both from natural oils and natural liquid content).

   Turn the dough on to a lightly floured counter and knead more to make a very soft and smooth dough. Shape it into a rectangle and roll the dough out into a larger rectangle about 1 cm (1/2″) thick. Brush the entire surface with flax oil.

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Fold the rectangle in half, keeping the width.

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Roll the dough out again, thinner this time, about 1/2 cm (1/4″) thick. Brush again with flax oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and scatter the chopped green onions over 2/3 of the surface, to leave room to roll the dough.

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Start to roll the dough, encapsulating the green onions inside, ensuring to roll tightly from the green onion end to the unadorned end.

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Once it is rolled into a log, cut the log in half. Then each half in half. Repeat this cutting until you have 16 equal portions. Turn the cut end on each portion so they are facing down on the counter.

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Using the palm of your hand, press down on each portion with a slightly circular, massaging motion to press them flat.

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Roll each portion to a thickness of 1/2 cm (1/4″).

   Preheat a wok filled with 2 cups of oil to a temperature of 190C/375F. Drop the rolled green onion cake portions in the hot oil, one at a time. Fry for no more than 45 seconds on one side, flip them and fry for no more than 20 seconds on the other side. Remove to drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining portions or freeze the unfried portions on individual sheets of parchment paper for upwards of a month, frying when you need them. Makes 16.

To serve:

   Cut the fried green onion cakes into quarters, stack them on a plate with a small serving dish of Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce. Serves 3-4 as a starter, appetizer or snack.

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BBQ Chicken and Green Bean Slaw with Creamy Ginger Dressing

Sometimes, in the kitchen, like in life, things don’t always work the way you like.

Earlier today I was rolling out dough for another recipe I was working on, and while cutting the edges of the dough, I cut my finger quite significantly. That plan went out the window for now, but I still needed to eat, and blog because the recipe a day that I’m doing for Advent is personally very important to me.

I’m usually very prepared in my trusted freezer for such eventualities, blogging or not. Besides ready-to-go meals like stews or chili portioned out, I have component sauces and stocks to augment a meal at any moment. One such sauce that I have right now is a BBQ sauce from my Ham Hock Pulled Pork recipe. This made for an easy addition to grilled chicken breast.

Because of the holidays and all of the baking, I also have an excess of fresh ginger from baking tray after tray of gingerbread. I decided that it would be a great flavour to compliment a green bean slaw.

So no matter how difficult a day may get in other ways, there’s always a moment after that adversity to breathe. We have to breathe. We have to eat. Why not take the time for one to make the other better 🙂

BBQ Chicken and Green Bean Slaw with Creamy Ginger Dressing

For the Green Bean Slaw with Creamy Ginger Dressing:

For the Creamy Ginger Dressing:

1 tsp freshly grated ginger

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)

   In a medium bowl, combine the ginger, black pepper and sour cream. Set aside.

For the Green Bean Slaw:

10-12 green beans, sliced thinly at an angle

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly at an angle

Reserved Creamy Ginger Dressing

   In the medium bowl with the prepared Creamy Ginger Dressing, add the green beans and celery. Toss together with your fingers and allow to sit for 20-30 minutes for the slaw to marinade.

For the BBQ Chicken:

1 chicken breast, cut lengthwise into four strips

1/2 cup BBQ sauce, plus extra to serve

2 slider buns or dinner rolls

   On an indoor grill set to high (or set your broiler/grill in your oven to 260C/500F).

   Rub the chicken strips with the BBQ sauce to coat thoroughly. Grill on the preheated grill for 4-5 minutes on one side and 3-4 minutes on the other side.

To serve:

   Place two BBQ Chicken strips each on two split slider rolls spread with extra BBQ sauce. Serve with the Green Bean Slaw. Serves 2.

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Crispy Eggplant Strips

Did I mention I love eggplant?

Did I ask this same question recently?

Oh yeah…

Anyways….this is my favourite quick option for eggplant as a snack and it can go in a few directions for options as you make the recipe, so versatility and ease of preparation are always great attributes in a recipe!

Most breading techniques call for the flour, egg, breadcrumbs mix. Or a variation within that parameter. This recipe doesn’t need the initial flour step of the dredging. And it doesn’t need eggs either. So you can save your eggs for omelettes and baking. Instead, the moisture to bind the breadcrumb mix is prepared mustard (I used my homemade garlic mustard, but any prepared mustard works great!).

The crispy strips are great on their own, with your favourite dipping sauce or as I made tonight, with a tomato pecorino pizza for a deconstructed eggplant parmesan pizza!

Crispy Eggplant Strips

1 225g/8 oz eggplant, peeled and cut into 2cm/1″ x 7cm/3″ strips

1/3 cup prepared mustard

1 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs (I just put 3 slices of whole wheat bread into a food processor and pulse into breadcrumbs)

1/3 cup yellow cornmeal

1 Tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp dried oregano

   Preheat oven to 220C/450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

   In one small bowl, place the mustard. In another small bowl, add the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, paprika, garlic powder and oregano. Blend together until uniformly combined.

   Dredge the eggplant strips in the mustard, letting the excess drip off. Add the mustard-dredged eggplant strips to the breadcrumb mixture, pressing the mixture firmly on to each strip. Lay out evenly on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. Turn the strips to brown the other side and return to the oven for a further 5-7 minutes. Serves 2-3 as a snack or side with a side of tomato sauce or your favourite dipping sauce.

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Alternative Serving Option:

   Bake a pizza with a fresh tomato and pecorino cheese topping and serve the Crispy Eggplant strips on the side.

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Carrot Cake Rice Pudding

After having a wonderful lunch at my neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant (yes, I’m very fortunate to have an awesome Vietnamese restaurant nearby), I was thinking all things rice. When I got home later, I wanted to make a rice pudding.

At this time of year, the flavours of gingerbread permeate everything, so I thought of other things that have that similar combination of spice flavours. The first thing that came to mind was carrot cake: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are all major elements in most recipes for carrot cake. Sometimes, one may find fennel or cardamom, so I decided to incorporate those into the carrot component of my dish as well.

Within the rice pudding itself, I wanted a rich brown sugar flavour and it was also the perfect place to incorporate the cream cheese to add an extra richness to finish. Between the finishing cream cheese and the butter to start it, it becomes like a butterscotch at the end.

After a lunch redolent with savoury fish sauce, rich fried items like spring rolls and green onion cakes (it’s a local thing here, it’s awesome), a sweet way to end the day balances the palate. And, hey, there’s carrots so it’s healthy?? (probably not 😉 )

Carrot Cake Rice Pudding

For the Butterscotch Rice Pudding:

1/4 cup butter

1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp allspice

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 cup white rice

4 cups milk

1/4 cup cream cheese

   In a medium pot over medium heat, add the butter, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Stir for a minute to toast the spices, add the brown sugar and rice. Stir for another minute to coat the rice with the spices. Add the milk, bring to a simmer and cover with a lid. Take the pot off the heat briefly and lower the heat to medium low. Once the burner has cooled to that point, return the covered pot to the heat. This prevents much of the bubbling over. You want to avoid that to ensure none of the sugary milk boils over and makes a mess.

   Occasionally stir the mixture while it simmers for 50-60 minutes until most of the liquid has absorbed into the rice. Take off the heat and stir in the cream cheese. The carrot step can be done on the back burner at the same time since both don’t require constant attention throughout the hour or so it’ll take.

For the Honey Glazed Carrots:

2 large carrots, peeled, quartered then the quarters cut across in half

1-1/2 cups water

1 Tbsp fennel seeds

1 Tbsp green cardamom pods

2 Tbsp honey

   In a medium, wide-bottomed pan over medium heat, bring the water to a simmer. Add the fennel seeds and cardamom. Allow to simmer for five minutes, then add the carrots. Simmer for 25-30 minutes until the carrots are very tender. Drain away the liquid, reserving it, along with the carrots. Discard the spices.

   Return the liquid to the pan with the honey. Bring the mixture to a simmer, add the carrots back in and simmer until the liquid reduces and the honey starts to coat the carrots (about 15 minutes). The carrots should be done glazing as the rice pudding is finishing up if you do them at the same time (which is ideal for service purposes).

To serve:

   Divide the Butterscotch Rice Pudding over four plates. Top each with some of the Honey Glazed Carrots. Serves 4.

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Eggplant Meatballs with Spicy Marinara

Have I mentioned that I love eggplant?

Oh yeah, in yesterday’s blog.

I also mentioned that I tend to buy it in large quantities (ie 5 or 6 at a time), so I end up doing a variety of things with it over the course of a week or so.

One of the easiest things to do with eggplant is poke a whole eggplant a few times with a fork and roast it in the oven. What temperature? Well, the hotter the better, but again, I was baking my way through giving cookies to every man, woman and child, so it was a bit moderate.

Anyways, because most of my baking has a 190C/375F oven, I happened to roast my eggplant at that temperature. It takes a little longer, but it’s ok, it sat in one corner of the oven while cookie sheet after cookie sheet went in and out over the course of the afternoon.

The idea behind this recipe is a culmination of years of cookbook reading, listening to old friends’ Italian parents and plain old experimentation and fun in the kitchen. And of course the days when food TV taught people how to COOK SOMETHING!!! Sorry, anytime I think of food TV now, shouting has to happen. That’s what it’s become….but that’s a rant for another day 😉

Tonight, I wanted to make something I hadn’t made in years. Through the latter half of the 90s I was vegetarian. Not vegan because of one word: cheese. But a lot of my culinary creativity came from not eating meat for five years. These meatballs are hearty, satisfying and with the blend of fennel seed and chillis, its flavour is bold and wonderful on its own. I don’t say things like “oh, you won’t miss the meat” because this is a very different thing. An eggplant meatball has a unique beauty of its own and it’s a nice change to a regular spaghetti and meatballs dish.

Eggplant Meatballs with Spicy Marinara

For the Eggplant Meatballs:

1 300g/12oz whole eggplant

2 Tbsp cold pressed canola oil (if needed)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 large egg

2 tsp fennel seeds, ground

1/2 tsp hot Hungarian paprika

1/3 cup shredded pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)

1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs

   Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.

   Lay the whole eggplant on the prepared baking sheet. Pierce the skin of the eggplant with a fork or sharp knife a few times. Roast in the oven for an hour, or until very soft. Allow to cool.

   When the eggplant is cool, peel away the skin, and place the roasted flesh into a blender. Purée until nearly smooth. If the eggplant needs a little help to purée, add the oil. Once puréed, place into a strainer over a medium bowl. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper over the roasted eggplant purée. Place a small bowl over that and stack one or two heavy cans or jars on top to press the purée to squeeze out as much of the excess moisture as possible (about 30-40 minutes).

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Once the purée has strained, reserve the liquid for the sauce later, and add the purée to a medium bowl. Add the garlic, egg, ground fennel seed, paprika, pecorino and breadcrumbs. Stir together with your hands to combine. Form the mixture into 8 meatballs.

   Preheat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 2-3 Tbsp oil and when the oil is smouldering hot, but not smoking, add the meatballs and fry for about 90 seconds per side. It doesn’t take long since the interior is already cooked. You’re simply getting a nice brown crust along the outside. Remove from the pan and drain the excess oil away on paper towels.

For the Spicy Marinara:

2 tsp cold pressed canola oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 tsp ground red chilli flakes

2 cups basic tomato sauce or tomato purée (sometimes called “passata” in the Italian section of a larger grocery store. I tend to make my own basic sauce and keep some in the freezer for moments like this)

Reserved Roasted Eggplant “essence” drained from the purée

   In a medium pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and dried chilli. When they start to soften, get aromatic and just lightly brown along the edges, add the tomato sauce and eggplant “essence.” Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes to harmonize the flavours.

To serve:

   Cook 200g/7oz of spaghetti (or linguine in my case tonight because I was out of spaghetti), toss with the Spicy Marinara and prepared Eggplant Meatballs. Top with a bit of extra shredded pecorino cheese, if desired. Serves 2.

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