Category Archives: kids friendly

Four Seasons Cream of Roasted Cauliflower and Four Fabulous Takes on It

This post might look like an epic tale about what you can do with roasted cauliflower, but it is basically one undeniably mighty fine and elemental soup formula, which on the merits of simplicity, economy and taste is hard to beat. Depending on the take you decide to choose, the cream of roasted cauliflower can stretch from a bowl of a humble cold weather comfort to the utterly festive haute cuisine dish you’d find in Michelin-star gastro-pub, or at a festive banquette.

In this post I will feature the following five splendid recipes:

  • BASIC CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LEEKS AND FORAGED GREENS;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LOBSTER DUMPLINGS;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED CHESTNUTS.

As you might have noticed already, some images from our latest travel through Quebec countryside and NYC full of spring blossom made a splendid back drop to showcase these recipes.

First thing first: why roasting cauliflower? Why not just boil it? Good point. Roasting cauliflower (see the tips below) to slightly browned and caramelized taste gives an added value, as does any extra ingredient from spice to vegetable, to nut, or bacon, or crustacean bits. This soup tastes wonderful when served piping hot, but on a hot sunny day you can cool it down and serve with the splash of cream or almond milk.  The basic roasted cauliflower soup formula is gluten free and totally vegan. Most importantly, for a simple few ingredients dish, it’s a low-caloric highly nutritional flavor bomb that you can easily overdose on few times a day feeling deeply satisfied and guilt-free. Which I guess is especially crucial now that many of us are poppin bikini/speedo tags, n’estce pas?

Depending on the spice or an additional ingredient, you can make this soup savory, sweet, salty, spicy, pungent, sour, or any combination of those. 

TIPS on ROASTING CAULIFLOWER: The method of oven roasting cauliflower in most recipes suggests that you separate the cauliflower into the florets, season with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast it at 350F to 400F for up to 30 minutes. Well, my experience suggests that cutting the cauliflower into the 1-inch thick steaks works better and using the oven preheated to 425F for 20-30 minutes, provides better, more evenly roasted results. Note, if your oven is very powerful, keep the temperature at 400F.

PS:Naturally, you can always sauté the cauliflower in the skillet, however, roasting it is healthier option.

SPRING TO WINTER: My favorite all-year version is with hazelnut brown butter and a pinch of smoked chili/paprika or curry (the choice is yours) garnish. It is easy, sophisticated and cosmopolitan, adding a smoky nut crunch contrast to the creamy cauliflower goodness. It is exceptionally balanced and the combination is thought out and trendy. How about turning it up more by doubling on the smoke and crunch with some bits of bacon? HEAVENLY…

TIP on SHELLING HAZELNUTS: Contrary to the popular advice to shell hot roasted hazelnuts in a slightly wet towel (which doesnt do a good job from my experience), this good ol tip coming from the SNL sketch look-alike video from 70s with glorious Julia Childprovides the fool-proof result on shelling hazelnuts (ps: this video will also arm you with a biscotti recipe).

Needless to say, you can play with other nuts too in this recipe, including almonds, pecans, walnuts, even chestnuts (see the recipe below).

Adding one or more vegetables (i.e. leeks, sweet potato, squash, etc.) to the roasting process and/or some sautéed greens to garnish can make an interesting twist in flavor and nutritional value. Try adding any root vegetable of your choice in fall or winter, and/or some garden/foraged greens in spring or summer. I like to apply almost any fresh farmers market finds to it, like in this version with chives and foraged fiddlehead ferns (pre-steamed or sautéed for 3-5 minutes in butter).

I use whatever is in season, from chives and green peas in summer; to corn, squash and pumpkin in fall; to cubed sweet potatoes or carrots in winter – the basic formula is a wonderful host for all of them. The only non-variable remains cauliflower.

As for applying and varying spices in this soup, sky is the limit: nutmeg, chili flakes, cumin, smoked paprika/chili, caraway or fennel seeds, curry, in fall-winter time; sage, thyme, lemon zest, mint, basil tarragon for spring-summer, etc.  A splash of white wine or a table spoon of apple cider vinegar would add some complexity to the soup as well.

SPECIAL OCCASIONS.  The Cream of Roasted Cauliflower with Lobster Dumplings comes to my memory first. I remember having this exquisite soup at the wedding reception years ago. Fixed wedding menus/dishes can be hit or miss, with most of the time being and unfortunate miss of which young Winston Churchill would say: “It would have been splendid… if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the duchess.” But that time the food was exceptionally good. I consumed that bowl of soup with reverent awe. Later, I found the approaching recipe on Food Network by Chef Michael Symon, whose taste buds I trust almost blind-foldedly. I used a roasted cauliflower instead of the sautéed one and the result was fantastic.

Today Im sharing this recipe with you. This riff on roasted cauliflower is highly festive, helps to stretch the lobster to many plates and evokes the felling of comfort and elegance. If lobster is difficult to find, feel free to use shrimp (peeled, cooked and deveined) instead. 

For the top notch finish, season with coarsely ground black pepper and drizzle with a bit of truffle oil. 

Voila, the simple step by step:

And for the lobster dumplings:

Finally, the recipe search for the cream of roasted cauliflower from the wedding also once brought me to Jackie Kennedy–style recipe of the Cauliflower Goat Cheese Soup (arguably served at the Kennedy wedding party among other thing at Hammersmith Farm), smooth and polished enough to be showcased in a stylish setting for those who admire the goat cheese (or many other kinds of cheese for that matter). 

I made it with the mix of crumbled goat cheese and feta bought from Chevriere de Monnoir farm I wrote about previously here and here. I also modified it by adding some roasted chestnuts (which you can buy now small-packaged in Adonis and even Walmart) into the soup and garnish and added a few drops of maple syrup. It came up sweet and umami and lick-the-plate-clean good. If goat cheese is not your thing, try it with grated cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Emmental, Swiss, etc.  or any cheese that you put in your favorite cheese fondue – all would work wonders in this forgiving cream of soup formula.

I hope you will try one/all of the below recipes and will enjoy it/them as much as I did.  I also hope you will give me some feedback upon trying. I am sure you will love at least one of them!
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BASIC CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1+ cup almond or regular milk
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they break in pieces, its OK, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and serve with your favorite garnish, or just with freshly cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried sage
1+ cup almond or regular milk
For Browned Butter Hazelnuts:
½ cup hazelnuts, shelled (see above instructions) and coarsely crushed
4 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
Pinch of coarse salt
Pinch of smoked chilly or paprika
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and sage. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, bring ghee or butter in a skillet to medium-low heat. Add hazelnuts and cook until butter turns brownish, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle with coarse salt and smoked paprika or chili, mix and set aside.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and sprinkle with browned butter hazelnuts and freshly cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
***
CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LEEKS AND FORAGED GREENS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1+ cup almond or regular milk
For garnish:
1 cup fiddlehead ferns, washed
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
Pinch of sea salt
Small bunch of chives, minced
Olive or truffle oil (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion, leeks and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, add 1 tablespoon of ghee or butter to the skillet and bring to medium-high. Add fiddlehead ferns and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and garnish with sautéed fiddlehead ferns, chives and cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LOBSTER DUMPLINGS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken or lobster stock
1 tablespoon white wine (optional)
1 pinch nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
Cooked Lobster meat for garnish, chopped
1 tablespoon truffle oil
For Lobster Dumplings:
1 ½ cups white bread crumbs
½ tablespoon softened butter
1 egg beaten
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
½ cup lobster meat, cooked and chopped
Milk to bind
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine if using, bay leaf and nutmeg. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Mix the dumplings ingredients and roll into small firm balls about ½-inch in diameter.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée the soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in heavy cream. Bring the soup to simmer. Poach the dumplings in soup for 3-4 minutes. Check the seasoning and remove from heat. Place the lobster meat in individual soup bowls.  Ladle 8 ounces of soup with dumplings on top in each bowl. Garnish with lobster claw and drizzle with truffle oil.
*This recipe was adapted from Food Network: Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Dumplings by Chef Michael Symon
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED CHESTNUTS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup roasted chestnuts, plus a few for garnish
1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)
1+ cup half and half (10% cream)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, nutmeg and cinnamon if using. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Add crumbled goat cheese, roasted chestnuts and maple syrup to the mix in the blender. Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in cream. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls. Garnish with some crushed roasted chestnuts. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil and sprinkle with freshly minced parsley. Serve with croutons on the side.

Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder with Pan Roasted Sweet Potatoes


Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder with Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

What we have in our house of cards for the main today is a new kid on the block: braised goat shoulder. Please don’t run away, it’s actually better than anything you can imagine braised in red wine, especially if you buy it fresh from the farm where they treat their goats with love and respect. Once you try it, you will know why the goat meat is the most widely consumed around the globe. Heavenly tasty! Paired with roasted sweet potatoes spiked with caraway seeds on a side it’s a pure delight. FYI, this recipe also works very well with goat/lamb shanks as well as the goat/lamb leg or shoulder. PS: this post is also written to encourage you to leave the metropolis from time to time to enjoy the incredible farm scenery in Quebec.

View of Montreal City Downtown from the Farm Road. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm, Quebec. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Contrary to the widely popular goat cheese, goat meat is not exactly a food staple in North America. For those of you who never tried the goat before and believe that it can be a challenging experience, here is an advice about eating some exotic foods for the first time from Jay Rayner,  The Man Who Ate The World: ‘…(Chef) Marcus made a very good point in last night’s show: that the odd is only odd the first time you eat it. After that it just becomes dinner. How right he is. A similar point could be made about the use of the word “exotic” when attached to certain food stuffs. What may be exotic to us, is part of the staple diet to others. For example, both Jody and Tony cooked with goat, which happens to be the most commonly consumed red meat in the world. It’s just not the U.S. and Europe that’s doing all the consuming. Goats are sturdy animals which can survive in arid conditions and that’s why they are so popular in Africa and the Middle East. Jody might not have much call for it in her corner of New England, but that doesn’t make it particularly outré. The same is true of black chickens, monkfish livers, and the rest.’

Goat accounts for 70+% of all red meat consumed world-wide. That said goat meat considered to be highly exotic in North America. However, as much as goat is not in the mainstream of our diets, things are gradually changing as the goat raising segment of industry is becoming one of the fastest growing segments of the livestock production in the US and Canada. People, especially those supporting wholly integrated farms and humanely raised food production, recognize the benefits of goat farming. 

Goat meat is not just about its unique taste quality, check this comparative table of meats and you will quickly notice that goat (chevon) is much lower in calories, minimal in fat and strikingly low in saturated fat while higher in protein than beef or lamb.

There are many other advantages of procuring goat meat: when you buy the locally produced goat meat (which didn’t take off yet in the big groceries) you know exactly where this meat came from (outdoor-bred, pasture-fed and organic), you don’t have to doubt its quality or identity; you support local producers and farming.The freshness and quality of meat factor in hugely in the final result of the dish.

This brings us straight to the Chevriere de Monnoir goat farm and its boutique we came to stock on cheeses to a few weeks ago.  This time I also noticed the new boutique had an amazing assortment of fresh meat cuts, immense variety of sausages, pattys, saucisson, tornedos, rolls, etc. – all made of goat meat from the farm. Seeing all this goodness, I felt like a pirate of Caribbean! 

Boutique at Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm, Quebec. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
New ingredient (with the short list of exceptions including some offal and fugu) puts me in a special excited spirit of adventure – I become fearless and energetic driven by the ambition to come up with the great new dish…

Fresh Goat Curd Cheese from Chevriere de Monnoir Farm, QC. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Don’t expect to just get away with $10.00 – there are so many choices, you can get lost. Their goat milk is pristine and their cheeses are to die for! The daily fresh curd cheese is my absolute favorite (the bag usually never reaches our house – I empty the whole bag while driving) and feta cheese is hard to beat.

1191 Rang de l’Église, Marieville, QC J3M 1N9
Tel: (450) 460-2221
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 10:00 to 18:00; Sun. 11:00 to 17:00

A short trip to this farm is also a nice opportunity to dive into the spring countryside and then may be continue down the Circuit du Paysan and explore the breath-taking lanscape with its vast sky,
beautiful little villages, churches, farms, vineyards and orchards.

Quebec Countryside. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Because it is very low in fat, the goat meat requires a slow cooking with some additional fat: I used bacon strips. The bacon adds a nice touch of smokiness and brings richness and the crunchy indulgence to this slow-cooked dish that along with herbs and spices lift it far beyond a mere meat roast. I also layered the botton of the pan with carrots to place the meat over to prevent burning: you can choose to eat them or discard after. The taste of meat is rich, mineral and distinctly sweet (perhaps because of the way goats graze: unlike the sheep goats never eat roots of the grass).

Step by Step Braised Goat Shoulder Preparation. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

If you have time, marinating the meat overnight (rub it with ¼ cup of olive oil, mixed with three cloves of crushed garlic, 1-2 tablespoon of dried thyme, coarse sea salt and pepper) would be a good idea – the meat will turn out to be more tender and juicier. Although this recipe calls for the red wine, feel free to opt for half a bottle of beer, ½ cup of brandy or 2 cups of dry apple cider. I garnish the cooked meat with minced crisp bacon I used to cover the meat, fresh lemon zest and minced parsley for an extra punch of the flavor – worked well, adding notes of crisp, smoke, tang and freshness.  

Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

The pan-roasted sweet potatoes with caraway seeds perfectly complements the dish and is fast and easy to make.

Pan Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Caraway Seeds. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

If you happen to have the leftovers, just warm up the meat in the skillet along with some other root veggies cooked in the braised sauce – mouthwatering!

Goat Shoulder with Roasted Root Vegetables. Photo © www.letsheatit.com


Here’s my other secret agenda about the goat: it might be that secret dream worker I’ve been looking for years to take over our tractor-cutting-the-grass summer labour (we have a big land – cutting the grass is a bummer). If they do it in France and California, we can do that too, right? Imagine how much time it would save, not to mention the eco-benefits!

Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm Trademark. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Carefully, I approach the issue with the farm owner, Marie-France Marchand: ‘Have you ever thought about renting one of your goats for summer?’ She grins and just nods and nods. ‘One day may be,’she chimes in as she catches my eye. This gives me hope. I love her goats. And her products. We will be back.

Interview with Marie-France Marchand at Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
Happy Braising!
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One Year Ago: 
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RED WINE BRAISED GOAT SHOULDER
Yields: 4-6 portions
Ingredients:
2-3 pounds goat shoulder (to marinate rub it with 3 crushed garlic cloves, 1-2 tablespoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon olive oil, coarse sea salt and pepper)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup dry red wine
1-2 onions
5 medium carrots: 3 cut in half lengthwise, 2 chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 leek, chopped (optional)
1 garlic head, halved
3-4 stripes of bacon
2 spring rosemary
2 bay leaves
5-8 Kalamata olives (optional)
2-3 cups chicken/beef broth or water
Salt & pepper
Instructions:
Marinate the goat shoulder from a few hours to overnight with garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line the Dutch oven with the carrots halved lengthwise. Heat the oil in the skillet to the medium high. Brown the meat on all sides. Deglaze with half of the wine. Place the meat on top of the carrots in the Dutch oven.
Add onions, garlic, celery, leek and the rest of carrots to the skillet. Add the rest of wine and stir to deglaze. Salt, pepper and transfer to the Dutch oven and distribute around the goat meat.
Cover the meat with bacon stripes and fix them with the toothpicks. Top with rosemary springs and bay leaf. Add olives, if using. Add the stock. Cover and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 325F and continue baking for an hour and a half to two hours until the meat is tender. Remove from the oven, open the cover and let the meat rest for 10 minutes for the juices to set before slicing. Serve with the side of pan roasted sweet potatoes.
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SPEEDY PAN ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH CARAWAY SEEDS

Yields: 4 portions
Ingredients:
4 medium size sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons cooking oil, OR mix of cooking oil and clarified butter, OR coconut oil
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
Sea salt
Instructions:
Peel potatoes and slice lenthwise. Cover potatoes with water in a saucepan, bring to boil and simmer for 3 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the skillet to medium-high, add oil and caraway seeds and roast them for 1 minute to release the flavor. Drain the potatoes and add them carefully to the hot frying pan with caraway seeds. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Increase the heat to high and roast potatoes for 7-10 minutes (depending on the skillet) until crisp on the outside and cooked through.

Green Tea Green Apple ‘Gimme That’ Mini Bundt Cake

I’ve been planning to join the Matcha tea craze in baking for a while and have finally come up with this mini cakes creation: worth every penny. Not only it’s a super-cute dessert with presence and pizazz, it is a moist and dense flavor bomb with a perfect match of green tea, green apple, maple syrup ingredients enhanced with the secret organic STASH tea powder to also include: hibiscus, orange peel, chamomile, pomegranate and raspberry flavors. The later ingredient is optional, although it works as a great taste booster and saves you lots of trips (and cash) to groceries for special ingredients if you happen to have it already. Pure Matcha tea powder alone is also good, packing the cakes with the one and only delicate taste of Japanese tea, along with its powerful health benefits.

If you feel hooked, dear reader, let’s buckle up for a quick food journey, play some Lilly Allen and agree the ‘Life for Me’ can totally include these treats.
Of all my previous mini cakes, muffin or cupcake experiments, I had the most fun with these ones. Whether you are a pro in your own kitchen or just an amateur of an easy, but special kind of dessert you never tried before, but were potentially curious about; the texture and aroma of which would be surprising; the taste of which would linger long after the first bite; and which can be re-heated a week later to reveal even more flavor – this is your thing.  These little sweet babies are the result of my light bulb moment re-purposing the Keurig-style STASH organic tea cups, which later became a pure Matcha tea cakes experiment. Four green apples are included and maple syrup is not forgotten. Believe me, if I’ve done them 3 times in the last 30 days that means they are obsessively addictive. The mini Bundt cake pans are procurable at many places today: from Walmart to Winners, but you can as well have these cakes in the cupcake or muffin shapes.
The spring has sprung, the Easter times go on and the beautiful city of Montreal is finally awakening from the never-ending cold slumber. What a Joy! You can gauge this excitement by the special things cooking on the stoves and special desserts baking in the ovens. The green tea + green apple cakes make a perfect ode to celebrate spring and nature’s renewal…
If you plan a trip to a potluck party this week-end, these will literally sell like hot cakes. No need to advertise, just wait to watch the face expressions while the cakes will be disappearing with cosmic speed.

There are two options to finish the cakes: drizzling with the maple syrup or dusting with confectionary sugar. I prefer to do both. There’s an indefinite number of garnish: from trendy pistachios, to other nuts, to spices like cinnamon or cardamom, to fruits, to whipped cream, jams, even fresh cheese or exquisite savory ingredients like foie gras or smoked fish if you’d like to stretch them to an upscale tapas party territory.

The cakes also make a perfect picnic or Easter basket companions.  These are easy and fun to make in advance and keep for a few days or up to a week in a fridge. If you decide to revive them into something especially impressive, just warm them up in  pre-heated oven (375F) for about 10-15 minutes to have that newly developed crisp crust, which you will re-drizzle later with maple syrup and re-powder with sugar.  Amazing!

It all began with giving a new purpose to the STASH tea cups with 100% natural green tea, hibiscus, orange peel, chamomile, pomegranate, raspberry flavors and Matcha. The idea of using Matcha in dessert has been rattling around my brain for a while. I was going to make the usual apple cinnamon cakes and then noticed the ingredients written on the STASH tea cups. As Deepak Chopra says, ‘intention brings attention’ and eventually ‘brings the process to fruition’: I broke the seal on the cup to see the inside and the tea mix looked like a perfect ingredient to me.  In the first batch I used only two cups of STASH tea powder. I was very impressed with the taste, but felt like it can take on much more tea ingredient.

The next batch I made was with the load of pure Matcha: 3 tablespoons of Japanese Green tea and Matcha mix, which I powdered in the mortar with pestle. In the third batch I used both, STASH tea powder and Matcha and the result was outstanding: cakes bursting with flavors you always look for when ordering desserts at coffee or tea house (and often fail to find).

Tip: squeeze some apple juice out (and drink it) from the pulp to make the texture of the cakes less dense…

Give the cakes a generous maple syrup drizzle on a patriotic whim; dust with powder sugar  and garnish with crushed pistachios. Voila, your green tea cakes are ready to impress the palate.
First time I tasted it I was just struck how incredible a mouthful of green tea the cake can be.
Everyone agreed. Try it with you favorite tea or coffee and you won’t be missing anything…


Enjoy your Easter baking and have a great week-end!

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Previously, around this time of the year:
BBQ Lamb Chops
Eggs Asparagus Ham Tart
Savory Easter Cypriot Bread
Lentil Avocado Spread

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MATCHA GREEN TEA & APPLE MINI BUNDT CAKES

Yields: 5-6 cakes depending on the bundt pans’ size
Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, OR gluten-free flour for gluten-intolerant
2 tablespoons Matcha green tea powder (plus 1 extra tablespoon to replace the STASH tea if necessary)
2 contents of tea bags or Keurig-style cups of STASH Pomegranate Raspberry Green tea with Matcha (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 stick butter, ½ cup, or 118 gm
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup, plus extra for drizzling
3 eggs, beaten
4 green apples, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon lemon juice to spray the apple pulp with
Confectionary sugar for dusting
Slivered nuts for garnish
5-6 mini bundt cake pans
Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
Wash, peel and grate the apples. Squeeze the juice out (to drink or discard) and drizzle the pulp with lemon juice to prevent from browning.
Unless you already have Matcha powder, ground the green + Matcha tea mix in the mortar.
Sift the flour into a big bowl and add the green tea and STASH mix tea, if using.
Beat the softened butter and brown sugar in a separate bowl with mixer.
Whisk the maple syrup and beaten eggs well.
Grease and flour 5-6 mini bundt cake pans and spoon the cake batter into.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes before inverting them onto the wire rack.
Glaze the cakes with maple syrup and/or dust them with confectionary sugar.
Sprinkle with pistachios, almonds or other slivered nuts.

Classic Miso Soup Recipe: Keep it Simple


Classic Restaurant Style Miso Soup
Japanese cuisine topic is broad and challenging, but quintessentially Japan’s food tradition rests on rice and Miso soup. The Miso soup is a beautiful ode to the Sea and the Earth. Almost 40 years ago, Avelin Tomoko Kushi, the legendary advocate for macrobiotic diet and the ‘moving force’ across the US behind the wave of the health food restaurants back in 70’s, published the book ‘How to Cook with Miso’. I found a copy of it few years ago in a thrift store and have embarked of a wonderful journey of experimenting with miso and myriads of interesting combinations with it.  Kushi poetically described Miso soup as ‘… soup, containing a sea vegetable, can be likened to the ancient sea we have evolved from. As that ancient sea nourished our first beginnings, miso nurtures us as the internal sea of our blood.

Visually, when you look at a bowl of Miso soup it somehow reminds of a cloud of sand suspended in the water under which the treasure of other ingredients is hidden…

Japanese Miso Soup & Kombu Seaweed

Although I’m quite sure no one remembers that great activist woman of a Japanese origin, we all know that as of today, Japanese cuisine has officially conquered the world with its food culture intangibles.  In a nutshell, to me it’s a story of the Japanese Chef Nobuki Matsuhisa, who came to the US via Peru, opened his first restaurant in Beverly Hills back in 1987 and was convinced by the rich admirer, Robert De Niro, to open one in NYC 7 years later (celebrity Hiroshima-born Iron Chef Morimoto used to be a head chef there as well). Today Chef and restaurateur Matsuhisa celebrates his 66th anniversary. ‘Nobu’ is all over the world, including US, UK, Italy, Greece, Russia, UAE, Hungary, Hong Kong and, of course, his native Japan…

Chef Matsuhisa and his Miso Soup Images from Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook by © Nobu Matsuhisa
What started as an exotic personal or professional travel to Japan few decades ago by selected chefs, food critics and writers has now turned into a massive food tourism pilgrimage to the land of samurai and cherry blossom.  It’s not just the exotic atmosphere, steamy bowls and sultry paper lanterns that lure foodie tourists from all over the world to this destination. With 267 Michelin starred restaurants under its belt Tokyo became the global gourmet capital where food is perceived as SUPER-HEALTHY and ATTRACTIVE; and Japanese chefs known for their stiff upper lip work ethics have become an example of a professional EXCELLENCE to be judged against.

Most of us however can’t afford to hop on a plane and fly to Japan to explore its rich culinary map and this is when the classic simple Japanese recipes come in handy. This post is my tribute to the humble Miso soup, a simple traditional Japanese concoction with exotic flavors of umami, sea and earthy and tangy taste of fermented soybeans. The mentioning of it instantly brings most of us to the sushi restaurants, where miso is a staple to begin the feast.

Unfortunately, the Internet is riddled with pseudo-classic miso soup recipes (missing kombu, using roasted nori instead of wakame, chicken stock or soya sauce for the stock base, firm tofu instead of soft, etc.) which can repulse you fast and make you forget about trying Miso soup DIY forever (this is how my first pack of miso paste ended up in garbage in a first place). But may be this fool-proof recipe will hook you on it without a problem.

The vegetarian version of Miso soup is made of primarily two basic ingredients: dried kombu seaweed-based stock called ‘dashi’ and ‘miso’, fermented paste from cooked salted and aged soybeans.

Kombu Vegetarian Dashi Stock
KOMBU VEGETARIAN STOCK (called KOMBU DASHI) + MISO make a powerful healing and detoxifying soup packed with fiber, probiotics, proteins, enzymes, rare vitamins (like K and B12), microelements and scientifically proven anti heart disease and breast cancer properties. Truly, this soup is a wonderful dish to kick-start a day, have a healthy lunch, break or a quick dinner. While the spring is trying to break through and the Lent has started back in February, this soup DIY recipe can’t be more timely in my point of view.
Miso Paste

The RESTAURANT STYLE, NON-VEGETARIAN classic version of dashi stock is called awase dashi and has an extra ingredient in it: dried fermented and shaved skipjack tuna flakes called KATSUOBUSHI, which you can buy at any major Asian grocery like Kim Phat:

Katsuobushi Flakes (Bonito)
Equally, and more on a budget, dashi stock can be made of dried baby anchovies and is called the iriko dashi:

Dried Anchovies

The sushi restaurant-style version also usually includes:
– soft silken tofu (never firm tofu);
– shitake mushrooms;
– wakame seaweed;
– minced scallions

Other Miso Soup Ingredients
If you are a Miso Soup lover, its exotic ingredients will not cost a fortune and have a very flexible shelf life. Here is what you need to to stock on (requires one single trip to the big Asian supermarket like Kim Phat,Tai Food (smaller places would be more expensive) – don’t forget to bring this list with you:
THE BREAKDOWN FOR A RESTAURANT-STYLE MISO SOUP INGREDIENTS
– DRIED KOMBU SEAWEED (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) – the 100g/$3.99 pack lands me with around 20 batches of 4 cups dashi stock;  
– BONITO FLAKES (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) –  the 30g/$5.99 pack is enough for 4-5 batches of 4 cups dashi stock; 
– MISO PASTE  (can last in the fridge for up to 12 months) – the 500g/$9.99 pack of uber-healthy white non-pasterized miso paste by Hanamaruki brand (my preferred) makes 8 to 10 batches of 4 cups miso soup and can be used in tones of other recipes (NOTE: as a general guide, the darker is the miso, the longer fermentation it went through, so begin with white type of miso to gradually get used to the taste and proportions);
– SILKY/SOFT TOFU – the 200g/$1.99 pack is found in most major groceies, enough for 1-2 batches of 4 cups of soup;
– DRIED WAKAME SEAWEED (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) – the 100g/$2.99 pack lands me with around 40+ batches of 4 cups dashi stock; 
– DRIED SLICED SHITAKE MUSHROOMS (can last well-sealed in a pantry for up to 12 months) – the 100g/$4.99 pack lands me with around 20+ batches of 4 cups dashi stock;
Follow the recipe below for the few simple steps:

 And voila, your restaurant-style miso is ready!

Enjoy your first real miso! I will come back with more takes on it.

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One Year Ago: 
Rosemary Oatcake Crackers
Candid Citrus Peel DIY

Two Years Ago:
Pear Yogurt Granola Muffins
Home-Made Granola

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CLASSIC RESTAURANT STYLE MISO SOUP
Yields: 3 to 4 portions
Ingredients for the dashi stock:
4 cups water, OR rainbow vegetable broth without beets
5-6 of 2-inch pieces of kombu (dried kelp)
4 tbsp (1/2 cup) loosely packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi), optional
Ingredients for the miso soup:
2 tbsp dried sliced shitake mushrooms (optional), soaked in cold water to reconstitute 
½ to 1 pound silken/soft tofu, cubed
2 tbsp wakame seaweed
4 tbsp white miso, OR mix of red and white miso paste
3 scallions, minced
Instructions: 
To make the dashi stock combine water/broth and kombu in a saucepan and bring the mix to boil. Simmer for 10 to 40 minutes (depending on how strong you want the flavor of seaweed)* Remove kombu and add bonito flakes, if using. Bring the stock to simmer, remove from heat and let bonito flakes steep for 5-20 minutes. Strain the stock through the mesh and discard bonito flakes.  Add some boiled water or stock to bring the quantity back to 4 cups.
Bring the broth to simmer and add shitake mushrooms. Simmer for 1 minute. Add tofu – don’t boil, because it will ruin the distinct flavor of dashi.
Dissolve miso paste in a cup of hot broth separately. Pour the miso mix back into the stock, add wakame and scallion, warm through (don’t bring the stock to boil) for 1 minute. Ladle into bowls and serve hot.
*Please note that restaurant chefs prefer to cook kombu longer for more intense flavor.

Art and Science of Perfect Banana Bread


Moist, moist, moist! Freshly baked banana bread based on a recipe of a true bread artist is something to behold. Utterly aromatic, comforting and delicious, what can taste better or be a better gift on the Hugging Day (today), or the Hunt for Happiness week (this week)? There are thousands recipes of banana bread, but this particular one stood the test of time in our family. 
Photo of Peter Reinhart credit: Ron Manville
The recipe comes from Peter Reinhart, one of the world’s leading authorities of bread, author of nine books on bread baking and multiple James Beard Award winner. To call his book ‘Crust and Crumb’ a bread-making bible in our house wouldn’t be an exaggeration (fyi, his most recent ‘Bread Revolution’is currently undergoing lots of testing chez nous). Every recipe from it is a hit, so when it came to banana bread recipe few years ago, Reinhart’s book was undoubtedly our first reference.  
My grandfather in law was pioneering in bananas import to Quebec about a century ago in hunt for his own happiness. I’m not sure if an idea of making banana bread from some of his perished goods ever crossed his mind, but the fact remains: bananas were then very expensive. The first recipes of banana bread started appearing in the cookbooks around the Great Depression when some entrepreneurial housewives hustled on recycling overripe bananas into baking goods and popularizing baking soda and baking powder. The two latter ingredients were chemically leavening breads rather than natural yeast. Banana bread spearheaded the revolution of breads from other leavens. Quick breads became a new American staple.
Here’s Peter Reinhart’s Banana bread master formula: ‘Banana bread is the standard by which quick-bread artists are judged. The criteria for great quick breads are simple: They must be moist; They must be delicious. The way to accomplish this is by using plenty of ripe fruit and the proper proportion of supporting ingredients. Tenderness is produced by fat, which means butter, though canola, corn, and other oils can be substituted if cholesterol is a concern. The rest is just flavor blending, the eternal balancing act among sugar, fat and starch.’
The exact banana’s condition is crucial for the bread’s quality. The more overripe is the banana, the more flavor, aroma, sweetness and moist texture it will add to the bread. That said, the slightly greenish or perfectly all-yellow banana will not add any flavor to the bread. 
Example.These are no-goes (the last one is close, but still not enough blackened):
The naturally overripe banana will have much more of brown and black spots. 
For the successful loaf bananas have to be absolutely, perfectly OVER-RIPE! There are two ways to speed up banana’s over-ripe: by hot or cold temperatures.
1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Place unpeeled bananas on the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before peeling and mashing.
2. Place bananas in the freezer for 3 hours. Or, heck, if you are in Montreal right now where the frostbite has reached its peak, just put them outside for an hour.  Let bananas thaw completely  and discard any liquids before peeling and mashing.
This is how the banana will look like after:
Yes, ROTTEN would be the right word. Which brings me back to the ‘Rotten’ episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘The Mind of a Chef’ series featuring Chef Chang and Christina Tosi (from Momofuku Milk Bar) making a wondrous banana cream pie from limp blackened thawed bananas.
True: ‘some foods are better rotten…’ to attain the best results in the recipe.
I hope you’ll have a blast making this bread.  Keep it in the fridge, so you can slice it and toast it and have an incredible breakfast, snack or dessert at any time you feel like going bananas.
Enjoy!
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Two years ago: King Cake
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BANANA BREAD (Peter Reinhart’s Master Formula)
Yields: two large or three small loaves
Ingredients:
3 ½ cups (16 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (0.5 ounce) baking powder
½ tbsp (0.64 ounce) baking soda
1 tsp (0.25 ounce) salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs (6.65 ounces) at room temperature
2 tsp (0.2 ounce) vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) ripe bananas, mashed (3-4 bananas)
1 ½ cups (9 ounces) walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
Instructions:
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 9x5x3 loaf pans with non-stick spray.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes.
Mix in eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Mix in vanilla and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of buttermilk, then 1/3 of mashed bananas. Continue in this manner until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Fill the pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 45 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake for additional 15 minutes, or until baked through. The safest way of knowing if they are finished is to test them with a probe thermometer. The internal temperature should be 180-185F.
Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out carefully on a rack to cool for at least one hour before slicing.
Adapted from ‘’Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers’’ by Peter Reinhart, The Speed Press 2006