Meatballs alla Puttanesca

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Rainy days in Alberta. Crazy how green and lush everything just turned!

The happiest are the cows out there, in the field, jumping from one patch to the next, grazing the tender shoots!

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What a contrast with the summery Victoria Day weekend! Good thing I finished planting Adam’s tomatoes in their sunny spot, my strawberries and my flowers in the remaining pots and hanging baskets!

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The lettuce, radishes, beets and snap peas were already sprouting last week, stimulated by the heat. Of course, I don’t have rubber boots and it is muddy in the vegetable garden. I cannot wait until the end of the rain to check things out.

Comfort food is what I need today…Meatballs are not the most original food but I would like to share this lip-smacking recipe with you. To make them, I mixed the ground beef with oats and olive oil, instead of breadcrumbs or eggs to keep the meat in cohesive yet moist and balls. I also added pungent dry mustard and flavourful Italian herbs to complement and offset the sweetness of the onions and tomato paste.

Meatballs are tasty on their own as an appetizer or finger-food at a potluck party. Dipped in tzatziki…Yum!

This time I made a variation of the puttanesca, a classic Italian tomato sauce that uses anchovies, olives, and capers to infuse the meat with homey-yummy goodness. I served the dish over giant pasta shells topped with fresh raw zucchini slices, grated Crotonese cheese and Italian parsley.

Ingredients for 4-6 servings (about 2 dozen):

1 pound extra lean ground beef

1 cup rolled oats

1 medium onion

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons Italian herbs

2 tablespoons dry mustard

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

¼ cup flour

Olive oil

For the sauce:

2 celery stalks

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

6 anchovies

1 carrot

1 cup cremini mushrooms

1 small orange pepper

16 ounces canned Cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons capers

½ cup Moroccan dry-cured black olives

For the topping:

1 small zucchini squash

Italian parsley

Crotonese cheese

1. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat.

2. Start the sauce by chopping then sautéing the onion, celery, carrots and anchovies until soft.

3. Stir in chopped mushrooms and pepper and sauté for 1-2 mins.

4. Add the cherry tomatoes, season and let simmer for 15 mins.

5. While the tomatoes simmer, in a large bowl, mix the ground beef with the rolled oats, chopped onion, herbs, dry mustard, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper using a fork.

6. Roll the ground mixture into 2 tablespoon-size balls and coat with flour.

7. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat.

8. Sauté the meatballs, until brown on all sides.

9. Transfer the meatballs into the tomato sauce and let simmer for ½ hour, until the meatballs are cooked through.


Almond Fruitcake Rum Balls

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Not sure about you, but I have been living Spring in full!

Witnessing the rebirth of my garden, watching every leaf, stem, and shoot turning into bud then flower almost overnight is such an invigorating experience!

Barely warming three weeks ago and, as we were busy raking the last remnants of winter off our yard, narcissi were blooming, peonies and daylilies were just poking out of the ground. Already then, I noticed that my ladybug friends were back on the budding birch tree.

One week later, the first tulip and crocus were opening their bright petals while the first chartreuse leaves appeared our rose bush.

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Very tempting to start any planting outdoors at that time, with the high risk of frost I decided for kitchen spring cleaning instead.

Perfect time to go through the pantry! I found a good chunk of Christmas cake– the best fruitcake ever, homemade packed with candied cherries, dried apricots and raisins, pecans (Note to self : Will have to blog the recipe sometime*). Adam and I LOVE this Christmas cake so much that we usually preserved it wrapped in plastic and foil, making last until Easter, lovingly basting it with dark rum or rye to keep it moist and germ-free.

With Easter being April this year, it was time to transform our fruitcake into rum balls.

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Wrong season for rum balls? Pas du tout!

Most recipes use graham crackers for their dough but why not recycle leftover fruitcake instead? Especially when all you have to do is to mix fruitcake crumbs with chopped nuts, cocoa, syrup, sugar and rum and roll the dough into balls.

The recipe I found in Canadian Living is so simple that you could use any leftover cake, including some of that spice loaf I made recently. I adapted it by replacing the pecans with unblanched almonds for which I doubled the amount. I also doubled the quantity of rum to make the dough more malleable, thus easier to roll, and easier to coat. The rum balls were firm enough after coating that I skipped the drying and refrigeration steps altogether.

I dove in right away: soft and sweet inside, crunchy outside…

Adapted from Canadian Living.

Ingredients for 1½ dozen rum balls:

2 cups almonds (I toasted unblanched almonds because their more earthy, richer taste)
1½ cup chopped fruitcake
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons corn syrup

¼ cup dark rum, preferably Madagascar rum

1. Toast almonds in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until fragrant and light brown, tossing frequently to prevent them from burning.

2. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Chop the fruitcake in a food processor, pulsing to make fine crumbs, and transfer to a bowl.

4. Finely chop the toasted almonds using the food processor.

5. Add 1 cup of almonds to the fruitcake and transfer the rest to another bowl.

6. Stir in sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup and rum to form a sticky dough.

7. Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

8. Roll the dough using one tablespoon of dough per ball. (Note: Rinse hands as needed)

9. Coat the balls with almond crumbs and place on prepared tray.

10. Enjoy ASAP (or refrigerate for up to one month if you can resist)

Snacky Dinner and Gardening Weekends

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Finishing up with our garden just in time for Victoria Day, the official birthday of the Queen installed in honor of Queen Victoria! The weather was so warm and sunny the past two weeks that I could not hold off until unofficial beginning of summer in Canada, especially after reading the New York Times article on city farmers.

Our fourth year gardening and it seems to get easier!

I started with our vegetable garden first, digging up and cultivating the soil then planting the seeds for our snap peas, green and yellow beans, plenty of mesclun, green leaf lettuce, spinach, curly parsley and dill in the North beds, Yukon gold taters in the South trenches.

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We also decided to experiment with potted root vegetables, i.e. radishes, carrots and beets, this year. Some pickling cucumbers also joined the pots with our fresh herbs, and as I commented on David Lebovitz’s post on Arthur Schwartz's Dills, I am looking forward to get enough to brine and can myself.

With all that activity, I got my favourite quick fix: a snacky dinner with rosemary porchetta, bresaola, rosemary Manchego, Crotonese, St- Jorge! Cold cuts and cheese from Italy, Spain, and Portugal! In the meantime, I hope I got you inspired to start your own garden this year, maybe with in of Edmonton’s Community Gardens !?


Beef Oxtail Blanquette

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I just discovered that I wasn’t the only adept of the slow-cooker. Of course, one of them is my aunt Emma was the one who offered us ours, but to my surprise, my friend J. also uses her crock-pot daily. She starts it in the morning before leaving for work to have supper ready upon return. Perfect for the busy mum!

I was describing my slow-cooking recipes to J., when I realised that I was so focused on enhancing the flavours of the ingredients with exotic spices that I completely missed cream-based sauces. I made a mental note to myself. How could I forget creamy stews!? I know, they are high-cal but everyone deserve a treat once in a while! Especially after prepping the garden for planting or on Mother’s day.

Well! Here it is: oxtail blanquette. Blanquette is a traditional French stew that uses veal meat, but I thought that beef oxtail would be just as succulent. I slow cooked the oxtail with mirepoix - the holy trinity of French cooking - and white wine first. Once fork-tender, I transferred the meat into a casserole dish and reserved it in the oven while I removed the excess fat from the broth. Because I am a finicky cook, I whizzed and passed the both through a sieve before adding the cream, but you can leave the vegetables chunky and serve the blanquette with steamed rice and sautéed oyster mushrooms.

Ingredients for 4-6 servings:

2 pounds beef oxtail

2 onions

2 or 3 carrots

2 celery stalks

1 teaspoon cloves

1 bouquet garni: thyme, parsley, bay leaves

½ cup dry white wine

1. Chop the carrots and transfer in the slow cooker.

2. Peel and spike the onions with the cloves. Place on top of the carrots.

3. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.

4. Season the beef oxtail with salt and pepper, brown in the hot oil and transfer to the slow cooker.

5. Add the celery to the pan and stir-fry for 1-2 mns over low to medium-high heat.

6. Deglaze with the wine and add the bouquet garni.

7. Let simmer for 2 mns and pour over the meat.

8. Slow cook on high for 6 hours, until the meat falls off the bones.

9. Transfer the meat into a casserole dish and reserve it in a 275 F- oven. (Note: Steps 9-13 are optional)

10. Remove the excess fat from the broth using a spoon.

11. Press the vegetables until smooth using an immersion blender (or transfer into a blender).

12. Pass the broth through a sieve into a saucepan.

13. Heat the broth to a gentle simmer and stir in the cream.

14. Serve hot over steamed rice .


Chipotle Sausage Macaroni Casserole

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As I have come to realise, the simplest dishes are often the tastiest and casseroles are one of them. I understand that spring has definitely arrived, and barbecue season with it, but if you live in Alberta, expect the unexpected.

Just like last week in Calgary: warm and sunny Wednesday, blustery and snowy Thursday!

With days like that, skip the salad and welcome a bowl of chicken soup or a warm, comfort meal with a cheesy crust on top!

In this all-in-one comfort food, I just precooked the macaroni, added zesty capers to the vegetables I had in my crisper. The chipotle peppers add both heat and smokiness to the tomato sauce. Before baking, I snipped the Italian sausages allow the spicy tomato-vermouth broth to infuse the meat and speed up the cooking process. Everything to make the King of Casseroles happy!

Ingredients for 6-8 servings:

2 ½ cups macaroni

1 celery heart

1½ cup cremini mushrooms

1 yellow pepper

1 small red onion

1 small jar capers

4 to 6 chipotle peppers

4 Italian sausages (Note: Omit for the vegetarian option)

1 28-ounce can tomato

1 cup dry vermouth

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon Italian herbs

½ cup freshly grated pecorino

Salt and pepper

1. Precook the macaroni in salted boiling water for 2 mins then drain. (The pasta should be firm to the touch)
2. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
3. Chop celery, mushrooms, yellow pepper and red onion and add to a casserole dish.
4. Stir precooked pasta, capers and chipotle into the vegetables.
5. Snip the sausages into 2 inch morsels using scissors and add to the dish.
6. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and stir into the vegetables with herbs and seasoning.
7. Cover and bake for 40 mins until the sausages and the pasta are cooked, stirring in the vermouth after 20 mins.
8. Top with cheese and brown for 5-10 mins.

Sweet Black Olive Shortbread

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Le hasard fait bien les choses… So tasty I had to find a safe hiding spot for the tin!

Back from a three-day process engineering training! The gamut on operations, costs, efficiencies et al. Interesting, brain-twisting problems, but after being trapped in a classroom with only cafeteria fare for distraction, I just needed the buttery softness of shortbread cookies for comfort.

To make these cookies, I adapted Jamie Oliver’s recipe for basic shortbread without rolling the dough. It is very similar to the one I used for the vanilla sablés, without eggs or refrigeration step. Just like scones, shortbread comes in sweet as well as savoury flavours, ranging from chocolate and almonds, to rosemary and fleur de sel.

Why black olives? I was browsing through my fridge for a salty snack – a pickle, maybe, I stumbled upon my favourite Moroccan black olives from the Italian store and remembered about Pierre Hermé’s green olive macarons.

Bingo! Salty, but bold and creamy also…perfect flavour and texture to enhance my sweet shortbread. Just keeps me coming back!!!

Ingredients for 18 cookies:

2 cups cake or all-purpose flour

1 cup butter, diced and room temperature

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup crystallized sugar (instead of superfine, but pulverized using food processor)

2 tablespoons to ¼ cup greek-style Moroccan dry cured black olives

1. Cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer.

2. Sift flour and cornmeal into a bowl.

3. Pit and finely chop the olives, and stir into the flour.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the buttercream, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

5. Preheat the oven to 300 F.

6. Line the bottom of a 9x9 inch pan with wax paper, and grease the sides with butter.

7. Press the coarse dough into the pan with floured hands (Do not worry if the dough is crumbly, because it will give the sablé texture to the shortbread)

8. Prickle the dough with a fork and bake for 50 mins, until lightly golden.

9. Let cool slightly and cut the cookies using a knife. (Similar to the sablés, the dough is soft to the touch)

10. Let cool completely before unmolding.


Cinnamon Tomato Pork Tenderloin and Smoked Paprika Oven Fries

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Put pork on your fork!

That’s the slogan that Alberta Pork uses to incite the public to eat porcine meat and help the farmers’ crisis. Has it worked? As of late, pork producers have decided to donate their excess to the Food Bank instead of destroying their animals.

For my part, I am trying to keep up and come up with new recipes. Pork likes sweet and sour, as I found with my apple-mango, honey-nectarine and tamarind experiments. The tomato marinade I used here would be perfect for barbecued baby back ribs, but because the tenderloin is leaner than the ribs, cinnamon and cloves enhance the sweetness of the tomato in a very different manner. The dark and syrupy mushroom-infused soy sauce, which does not taste as salty as tamari sauce, adds more depth to the marinade. Instead of white vinegar, I used cider vinegar to thin the marinade which is much milder. For the calorie conscious ones, the accompanying oven fries are a must – Keep the skins on! They are rich in Vitamin C!!!

Ingredients for 2 generous (or 4 small) servings:

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)

1 teaspoon black peppercorn

1 teaspoon cloves

1 stick cinnamon

1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the pork tenderloin in a sealable plastic bag or a bowl and add black peppercorn, cloves, cinnamon, soya sauce, bay leaves, tomato paste, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

2. Marinate in the fridge for 2 hrs.

3. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

4. Transfer into an oven dish and roast for 20 mins, until the internal temperature reaches 150 F.

5. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and tent with foil for 5 mins.

6. Carve the meat and serve with oven fries and green beans.

Smoked Paprika Oven Fries

Ingredients for 4 servings:

4 russet potatoes

1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon Italian herbs

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash and slice the potatoes.

2. Preheat the oven to 425F.

3. In a large bowl, mix the potatoes with the paprika, herbs, olive oil and seasoning.

4. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 40 mins until golden and crisp, flipping the fries after 20 mins.

Sweet Macadamia-Chocolate and Savoury Cheddar-Sun Dried Tomato Scones

Le weed-end, c’est sacré! Sacrebleu!

Weekends are sacred! Is it just me or do you also live for your weekends? A gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon and nothing to worry about - unless you are a grad student stuck in the lab, trying to complete the last experiments that will set you free from your slave-driving boss!

Friday, 4 pm…no 3:30 pm. Traffic is already backed up, but for once this week, nothing will take that smile off your face. Not mine, anyway. Shut the car door, put my sunnies on. Turned CKUA on. Already cruising off the office politics, planning for a well-deserved glass of wine and a relaxing fin de semaine.

This weekend, you might have planned for afternoon tea with you girlfriends or a brunch with your in-laws, and scones are an easy treat to make. They are best freshly baked, but they barely need any kneading to achieve flakiness and lightness. I just simply wanted to treat myself with something other than muffins for brunch, plus I got to snack on the leftover for goûter instead of cheese and crackers. The buttermilk dough I found in Chatelaine is not only light but, but also slightly tangy. I decided to divide my dough into two portions for sweet and savoury scones, but you can easily make two separate batches to scale it up.

These scones are decadent enough to be enjoyed on their own, but feel free to enhance your experience with simple yogurt dips! A berry yogurt is the perfect match for the rich and sweet macadamia and chocolate scones. For the cheddar and sun-dried tomato scones, a plain yogurt spiked with lime juice and a pinch of salt. YUM!

Ingredients for 12 scones:

2 cups baking or all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 egg

½ cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons milk

For 6 sweet scones:

1/3 cup macadamia nuts

1/8 cup dark chocolate chips

For 6 savoury scones:

½ cup grated yellow cheddar

¼ cup sliced sun dried tomatoes

1 small red onion (about ¼ cup)

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

2. Stir in sugar using a fork.

3. Cut the cold butter into the flour until crumbly.

4. In another bowl, whisk egg with buttermilk.

5. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture.

6. Mix with a wooden spoon. Divide the dough into two bowls at this point if you want to make sweet and savoury scones.

7. With floured hands, add in chopped macadamia nuts and chocolate chips for the sweet scones; cheddar, sun dried tomatoes and red onion for the savoury scones.

8. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

9. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

10. Gently knead the dough for 10 secs, just enough to mix the filling in.

11. Gather and pat the dough onto a floured board to form a ½ inch-thick disk.

12. Cut out scones using a floured small glass.

13. Place the scones about 1 inch apart on the lined baking sheets.

14. Lightly brush with milk and bake for 13 mins, until light golden.

15. Cool on a rack and serve with yogurt.


Barbecued Wild Salmon With Herb Potatoes and Piccantelli Asparagus

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Spring is definitely here. Time to dust off that good ol’charcoal barbecue!

I love barbecuing because the smokiness of the charcoal enhances the natural flavours of your aliments. It is also the easiest way to deal with whole fish. This time, I just rubbed salmon with salt and pepper, filled it with lemon slices and thrown it on the grill. Once you lit the charcoal, there is nothing to stop you from cooking your veggies right there too! I used the heat of the barbecue to steam my foil-wrapped potatoes and piccantelli asparagus, to complete this simple and tasty meal.

Ingredients for 6-8 servings:

1 whole wild salmon

1 sliced lemon

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

For the herb potatoes:

1 russet potato per serving

1 tablespoon Italian herbs

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Olive oil

For the piccantelli asparagus:

6 asparagus spears per serving

¼ cup piccantelli olives

Olive oil

1. Boil the potatoes for 30 mins.

2. Score the potatoes using a knife and rub herbs and salt into the cuts.

3. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and tighly wrap with aluminum foil.

4. Light up the barbecue.

5. Rinse the fish with cold water and pat dry using paper towel.

6. Rub the fish with salt and pepper and fill the belly with lemon slices.

7. Wrap the fish with aluminum foil.

8. When the coals are ready, place fish and potatoes on the barbecue.

9. Snap the asparagus ends off.

10. Top the asparagus with the olives, drizzle with olive oil and wrap with aluminum foil.

11. After barbecueing for 15-20 mins, remove the foil from the fish.

12. Steam the asparagus on the barbecue for 15-20 mins.

13. Serve immediately.

Lime Orange Mousse

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I would usually go for chocolate mousse, but this is my orange year!

Navel oranges, enormous crates of them, invaded our grocery stores this winter and spring! There is so much more to oranges than your daily breakfast juice. I have been enjoying every ray of sun from each section, simply tossed in fruit salad or in a spinach and strawberry salad.

After orange meringues, why not give a try to orange mousse. Just like for a hollandaise, the challenge of this dessert was getting the orange-yolk mixture to thicken over the double-boiler, but with patience, the result was well-worth the effort. The thicker, the better! This much lighter and healthier fruit version of the French classic makes a perfect, refreshing dessert, especially with one or two vanilla sablés.


2 eggs

2 oranges

1 lime

1 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon triple sec

½ cup sugar

1. Separate the eggs.

2. In a small bowl, stir together egg yolks, orange and lime zests, orange and lime juices, liquor and sugar.

3. Place the bowl on a double-boiler and gently whisk for 10-15 mins, until smooth and thickened. (Note: The yolk mixture should coat the back of a spoon.)

4. Cool to room temperature.

5. In another bowl, beat the egg whites using an electrical mixer until firm peaks form and fold into the egg yolk mixture.

6. Using an electrical mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form and fold into the egg foam.

7. Refrigerate for at least 4 hrs before serving. (Tip: You can also make the mousse one day ahead)

Madagascar Vanilla Sablés

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After trying the pain d’épices, I was trying to remember all my favourite childhood snacks. Of course, sablés and palets bretons were one of them. Sablés and palets are the French shortbread cookies from Normandy and Brittany. I hope to find a recipe for palets; in the meantime, here are my sablés. Just as buttery as the Scottish cookie, their texture is slightly sandy, hence the name. Unlike other shortbread recipes, I thought that Madagascar vanilla would be perfect to enhance the delicate, nutty flavour of this cookie. Simple and delicious.

Ingredients for 3 dozen sablés:

1 ½ cup cake or all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cornmeal
1 vanilla bean
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (Note: I make my own vanilla extract by letting the beans soak in dark rum. This method also helps preserve the vanilla beans, preventing them beans from drying)
1 cup unsalted butter, diced and at room temperature
1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
2 egg yolks
1 pinch of salt

1. Sift flour, cornmeal and sugar into a bowl.

2. Cut the butter into the flour mixture, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Separate the egg yolks into a small bowl.

4. Slice the vanilla bean, scrape the vanilla seeds onto the yolks, and lightly mix in the extract with a fork.

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5. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture using a wooden spoon until obtaining coarse dough.

6. Divide the dough into two portions and transfer onto parchment paper.

7. Press and roll each portion into a 2 inch-diameter log using the parchment paper.

8. Refrigerate for at least 2 hrs (overnight if possible).

9. Preheat oven to 340 F.

10. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper

11. Once the logs are chilled, cut the dough into ½ inch discs using a serrated knife. (Tip: If the dough is crumbly, slightly pat the dough and put back into the fridge)

12. Place on baking sheet spaced 1 inch apart and bake for 10-12 minutes until just lightly golden on the edges.

13. At this point, the cookies are soft to the touch. Let cool on baking sheets until firm.

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