Friday, December 23, 2011

Tidings of Good Health and Joyful Eating

As we prepare for a weekend of travel, indulgence and gifts, I'd like to wish all of you dear readers a happy and healthful Christmas.

I am taking a break from the virtual world to surround myself with my friends and family. They will be my inspiration for a fresh batch of stories and recipes.

Until then, have a delicious Christmas! I hope it is filled with abundance and joy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Part about the Holidays

There's a fresh dusting of snow outside. Inside, there are platters of leftover panettone and stollen.
It's feeling a lot like Christmas in AK's Kitchen.

We kicked off the holiday season with a small gathering of friends over Sunday lunch. Everyone pitched in a little something. We assembled a truly global table: Italian panettone and pan d'oro, French  macarons, Lebanese sfouf and German stollen.
Stollen from the Elmvale Bakery
We reconnected with friends we had not seen since in months. We shared laughter and music. We all took time away from the routine rush.

To be surrounded by wonderful people is a priceless gift.

Bring on the holidays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Italy with Love

Food can convey such powerful memories and emotions. My Italian friend Isa sent memories of home via an old family recipe. For her son, it conjures up memories of birthday parties and cosy family time.

Filippo is far from home but never strays far from her thoughts. She recently thought about how he giggles whenever she makes this recipe.

As I mentioned a couple posts back, we've adopted Filippo into our family as he attends high school here in Ottawa. Filippo is spending Christmas here. Isa and her husband, Lorenzo, will join us a few days later.

Isa sent me the recipe for Filippo's favourite dessert, tenerina al cioccolato. Perhaps a way for me to transport his loved ones in Bologna into my kitchen.

Tenerina al ciccolato
I surprised Filippo the other day and made the recipe, with some slight alternations for a gluten and dairy free version.

I tried to Christmas-ize it by using my gingerbread cookie cutters. I brushed a thin layer of raspberry jam, some coconut sprinkles and sunflower seeds to hide the cracks. As you can see, I need to finesse the technique.

Still, the chocolate treat delivered the flavours of love from back home. Filippo ate every last crumb. This torte will be on my holiday menu, dressed up with cranberries and walnuts.

The recipe is easy to remember: equal portions of eggs, butter, sugar, chocolate.  I used coconut oil instead of butter. (I'll try lighter grapeseed oil next time.) Instead of wheat flour, I used rice flour.

Filippo said the only difference was that my version was slightly more dense, but equally delicious as his mom's. Spoken like a true gourmand.

Tenerina al cioccolato di Isa (Isa's chocolate torte)
3 eggs, separated
300 grams butter
300 grams dark chocolate/ cocoa powder
300 grams sugar
2 tablespoons potato flour
1 tablespoon wheat flour

(300 grams = roughly 1 1/2 cups)

Line an 8-inch round dish with parchement paper. 
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites to form moist peaks. Set aside. 
Melt the butter and dark chocolate. Let cool.
Add egg yolks, sugar and flour to chocolate mixture. 
Fold the chocolate mixture into egg whites. 
Pour into prepared dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday Night Dessert Project

The Friday night ritual in AK's Kitchen usually involves something baked, something sweet, something chocolate, or all of the above. (I don't get out much.)

This particular Friday, my gang expected their regular sweet fix. They invited three of their friends to join the indulgence. Imagine, six angelic little faces smiling up at me in my kitchen. All pleading with me to get their hands gooey with batter so they could stuff their faces with dessert.

Before I could induge them, my body ran out of steam. I didn't have the energy to stand in front of a stove, tempering chocolate. But I couldn't let down the kids. I needed a no-cook, kid-friendly dessert. Better yet, something they could make themselves, with little energy out-put from me.

I pulled out my sure-fire kid-pleaser. It is the most inelegant hunk of metal in my kitchen. It resembles a crude medieval torture device.

All six pairs of eyes widened like saucers. I gave them a quick demonstration of how it works. I secured an apple on the long metal bar, cranked the handle a few times and in seconds, the peel unravelled like a ribbon. The apple was cored and sliced into symmetrical rings in seconds.

I don't know the technical name for the apple gizmo. I picked it up years ago at a kitchen store in the States. I once saw a similar device in the Lee Valley Tools catalogue. I think every family kitchen needs one, not just for the functionality but for the amusement factor.

After my apple gizmo demo, our five-year-old friend screeched in amazement.  Her older brother was slack-jawed, as though he had just witnessed the most incredible magic trick.

I had to harness (read exploit) this curiosity. So I put them to work on The Great Apple Dessert Project. My daughter and 9-year-old best friend were in charge of cranking out the apples. The youngest slurped up the long "apple worms," the ribbon-like peels.

The boys prepared the sweet sprinkles of cinnamon and coconut sugar.

Within a few minutes, the gang presented their perfect plate of apple rings. They were all so proud of  their creation.

I set aside a couple of rings and topped them with cinnamon and garam masala for myself. I read somewhere that the scent of cinnamon is beneficial for cognitive function and memory. (Anything to help the brain.)  

The kids now have a low-tech, no-fuss dessert/ snack to add to their repertoire. Best of all, I won't have to lift a finger.

The apple gizmo is at the ready for the next gang of kids, and maybe a few adults.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Egg pizza and My New Sous Chef

Every cook needs a sous chef. Lucky for me, I have my very own personal kitchen aide for the next few weeks. Filippo, comes to AK's Kitchen from Bologna, Italia, via a program for international students.

Kitchen duties are my own addition to his cirriculum. I figure every teenager needs to know some basic cooking skills. As I mentioned to Filippo, girls really dig a guy who can julien and sauté. And who can resist a 6-foot 4-inch helper who can reach the dark corners of the pantry (that's where the fish paste disappeared) and who is strong enough to bring down the blender and other heavy appliances.

My 17-year-old sous chef has a natural appreciation for fine food. How could he not? He was born and bred in Italy's capital of gastronomy. His dad, Lorenzo, makes balsamic vinegar, as a hobby. His family farm has wild truffles. His nonna, Iris, makes homemade tortellini. Family dinners are a feast for the senses.

Filippo's first lesson in AK's Kitchen was to help me transform three leftover tilapia filets into a meal for six. Eggs are one of the easiest ways to stretch a meal. Filippo and I whipped up an "egg pizza" in 10 minutes. This is a variation of Marga's tortilla.

While my teen kitchen aide beat seven eggs, I chopped half an onion, one tomato and grated one carrot. I fried the vegetables and put them aside. Filippo poured the eggs into the frying pan.

When the eggs were nearly set, we added the vegetables. Filippo arranged pieces of the leftover poached tilapia onto the egg pizza. Grated mozzarella and chopped red pepper finished off the pizza.

Presto! Dinner for six served with baked sweet potato fries and a salad.