Thursday, June 24, 2010


Hello! Turns out 6 months can fly by surprisingly fast! A glimpse at a few of the delicious experiences of 2010...

The 'Manhattan Blend' coffee from Dean & Deluca...

Assorted macaroons from Pierre Herme (the green tea
and olive oil was my favourite)

Homemade sushi - a fantastic way to spend an afternoon! I realize they don't look beautiful, but they were scrumptious.

It's been a good year for books as well - I definitely need to sit and finally make a booklist though. So far the year has encompassed some Terry Goodkind (I'm not sold on him yet), some George R.R. Martin, The Pillars of the Earth, The Cello Suites (fantastic book!), Sylvia Plath, Richard Yates, t.s. eliot, some James Clavell, The Road, The Reader, and a few biographies.

I wanted to talk about James Clavell - I think his books are fantastic, even though sometimes it feels like an exercise in endurance getting through them. His best by far is Shogun, the first novel in the Asian Saga series. If you're a fan of historical fiction, definitely give this a read. It has adventure, romance, politics, espionage, and culture. The Japanese Samurai culture in the 1600s is beautifully illustrated, and experienced through the eyes of an English sailor. Clavell is fantastic at weaving multiple storylines at once, and explaining historical events at the level of the common man. It's hard to summarize a 1000+ page book, but the beauty of the entire novel is the ending - every detail and motive in the book is wrapped up on a single page.

I realize it may be gauche to pair homemade sushi with the novel Shogun, but try it! Our sushi / maki fillings included salmon / cream cheese / chilli mayo, salmon / avocado / lemon, and roasted yam / avocado / mango. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

This side of the continent is really growing on me. A 2 day mini-trip to New York cemented the whole thing, I think I could live happily between the two cities (gastronomically). Food. Everywhere. Of every kind. I had to restrain myself running through the streets of NYC, itching to eat my way through the city. Definitely my kind of holiday.

No proper book-talk this time, as I'm midway through a handful of books, but I promise one for next time!

I tasted my first challah, stuffed with sweetened cream cheese (!), a few months back, and since then I've been curious about the process of making one. This is far from perfect, but for a first attempt, not bad. I think the heaping spoonfuls of Nutella had something to do with that. The recipe was taken from 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day', which is an absolutely fabulous book for carb-lovers in general, especially those in a hurry.

Nutella and Hazelnut Challah

The master challah dough is a mixture of 1 and 3/4 cups lukewarm water, 1.5 tablespoons instant yeast, 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt, 4 large beaten eggs, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 unsalted melted butter, and 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour. Stir like a maniac, and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 3 days. Pinch off a grapefruit size chunk, and away you go:

Now for the logistics and elbow grease. After shaping the dough into a ball, roll it with your hands into a log. Cut into 3 equal pieces, and roll each piece out into a long thick rope. Indent the middle of each rope with the side of your hand - the deeper they are, the more Nutella you can add.

Generously spread about 2 tablespoons (or more!) of Nutella into the indents.

Once you're done with the Nutella, pinch the dough closed into little tubes. It's not a perfect art (or at least not in my hands), but a few splodges of Nutella peeking through won't hurt anyone.

Now for the braiding! Line the 3 logs up next to eachother on a baking sheet. The book suggested starting the braiding in the middle of the logs and working out, which worked quite well. It's a bit hopeless looking at first...

...but it somehow manages to come together. Tuck the ends slightly underneath the body of the challah.

Cover with a towel and let it rest for about an hour. Preheat your oven to 350F. Once the dough has puffed a bit, brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts (or nuts of your choosing).

Bake for about 25 minutes. Voila! A Challah! Not as hard as I expected, though my technique isn't quite there yet. The massive batch of master dough is quite generous, so you've loads of dough to practice with. Enjoy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Of Reading, and Tarts

I'm in Montreal at the moment, and will be for the next 6 weeks, and the freedom from exams and studying is almost overwhelming. I find myself making lists of things to do each day, and trying to be...productive. It's a little silly, and I'm trying to stop, I swear. So - today's 'goals', find a gym, a grocery store, and get through as many books as possible, with loads of tea.

With that in mind, I've just finished some fantastic green tea and 'The Reader', by Bernhard Schlink. I haven't seen the film yet, but Kate Winslet seems like such a perfect choice for Hanna. I've heard some wonderful reviews of the book (and film), but also some scathing critique of the subject matter. To be honest - I didn't fall in love with the book, but I did find it beautiful in it's clarity and honest, first-person narrative. Many took issue with the pseudo-erotic content, and while any book concerning the Holocaust tends to set off an emotional response, I found myself more interested in the story between Michael and Hanna.

At 15 Michael is seduced by Hanna, and their relationship consumes his teenage years. Then, one day, Hanna leaves him without a trace. This act creates an emptiness in Michael that stays with him through to his adult life. Hanna re-enters his life later on, in regrettable circumstances; as a young law student Michael sits in on a trial of female Nazi guards, of which she is one. What stayed with me in this section of the book was not the moral and ethical crises surrounding the Holocaust and the Nazi guards, but the character of Hanna, and Michael's numb processing of his emotions. This is the essence of the book.

I love that Michael is honest enough to say he doesn't understand the true meanings of good and evil, and that he struggles with the moral issues of Hanna's situation with such innocence. He understands what is 'bad', but refuses to believe that a 'good' person could deliberately be involved with such things. The scene where Michael visits his somewhat estranged father for a different perspective is beautiful; we see Michael yearning for a way to fix the situation, and his father gently stressing that some situations cannot, and should not, be fixed by someone on the outside.

My favourite passage from the novel -

"I reread the Odyssey at that time, which I had first the story of a homecoming. But it is not the story of a homecoming. How could the Greeks, who knew that one never enters the same river twice, believe in homecoming? Odysseus does not return home to stay, but to set off again. The odyssey is the story of motion both purposeful and purposeless, successful and futile."

I think this is the central dilemma that Michael, and many of us, grapple with - in a world that tries to understand the purpose and meaning of life, how can we make sense of the purposeless, the futile? I don't know, and I'm not sure if I ever Will know - but Bernhard Schlink elegantly portrays a young man trying to come to terms with this.

It's difficult to segue into a recipe after a somewhat serious book, but here goes - I made this tart a few months ago for Thanksgiving, and forgot to write about it. It's really, really good. As a warning, a thin slice of it is enough to slip into a food coma. This was my first time making anything with caramel, and that turned out to be the most difficult step - afterwards it's simply a matter of assembly and baking. Enjoy!

Caramelized Nut Tart
adapted from Epicurious

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cubed
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tablespoons ice water

The Filling:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2/3 of a cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

9 inch tart pan with removable bottom

1. Mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. Add butter. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the mixture, until it resembles wet sand. Mix in the vanilla and ice water. Gather the dough into a ball, and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours, until firm.

2. Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to a 12 inch round. Transfer carefully to the tart pan, and fold in the overhang. Pierce dough all over with a fork. Freeze 15 minutes.

3. Bake the crust until set, but still slightly pale, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400F.

4. Combine the sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, and boil for 10 minutes without stirring, until the caramel is a deep amber. Reduce heat to medium again. Gradually whisk in the cream until the mixture is smooth, then add the honey, butter, and vanilla. Mix in all the nuts.

5. Pour caramel mixture into the crust. Bake until the filling bubbles, about 20 minutes. (Mine bubbled over quite a bit, so put the tart pan atop a baking sheet with wax paper).

The originally recipe says to cool completely, but I preferred to eat it warm.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gadzooks it's 2010! Happy New Year all!

I've been piled under a throng of textbooks, consuming tea by the gallon and brainstorming ways to avoid the outdoors. Somehow -30 in Canada doesn't seem as bad as -3 in Dublin today, the entire city is covered in a thick sheet of ice making it impossible to get groceries or a much needed coffee.

I find myself having very specific cravings during exam season, and always justify setting time aside to make them as I start obsessing over the idea of 'brain food'. Yesterday it was bran muffins with applesauce and honey and blueberries, today it's anything with spinach, and loads of the du hammam from the palais du the. Tomorrow I'm hoping for oatmeal almond muffins, and a loaf of herb du provence and olive oil bread. I figure it's food for thought.

Unfortunately, not much time for proper reading over the holidays as textbooks were on my concsience, but the plane ride book deserves a mention. I was intrigued by a book review in last year's RCSI student medical journal critiquing Samuel Shem's 'The House of God'. It came out in the late 70s, and is unforgiving in its satirical and absurdist portrayal of intern life - the interns are caricatures of insecurities and disillusionment. The book is loosely autobiographical and revolves around the BMS (a thinly veiled Harvard medical school) and The House of God (I'm told this is supposed to be Beth Israel Hospital). I found it hard to relate to, as at this point in the curriculum we haven't had rotations and sleepless, ER filled nights. Something in it did strike a chord though.

The main character, Dr. Roy Basch, starts the first day of his residency with naive good-intentions and nerves. Each new character serves to slowly unfurl Basch's ideas on medicine and morality, until he embodies the cynicism he originally loathed in the system. Central to this change is the senior resident, 'The Fat Man', an obese, charismatic, lazy physician, whose 'Laws of the House of God' are completely shocking in their open negligence and laissez-faire attitude, but completely necessary in order to retain any semblance of sanity. The only real foil to the Fat Man is Jo, another senior resident, who manages to alienate everyone through her overly ambitious, do-gooder attitude, and whose worship of rules and order barely covers her intense loneliness and exhaustion.

The entire book is a circus set in a hospital, laden with dark humour and impossible moral codes. I feel the only way to approach the book is as a satire - although Shem at one point argued his book is devoid of humour, and is as realistic as it gets.

(In all honesty, I'd rather see this book as fiction, and rely on Scrubs for accurate portrayals of my future!)

Anyway. Enough on that for now. Here's something much more enjoyable - Mango Cranberry granola. It's terribly easy to make, nutritious, flexible, and makes a perfect gift or luxurious snack. I've made it a few times now, and haven't quite gotten the right consistency for granola bars, but am more than happy with crumbled granola for breakfast instead.

Mango Cranberry Granola

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey, melted
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup dried mango, chopped
1/2 cup chopped dates

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.

Mix the oats, almonds, coconut and wheat germ on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 5-7 minutes until lightly toasted.

Transfer to a large mixing bowl to let cool.
In a small saucepan, combine the butter, honey, maple syrup, sugar, and vanilla extract. Stir over low heat until just melted. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix to coat. Add the dried fruit, and mix until combined.

Reduce the heat to 300F. Spread the mixture into a 13 x 18 baking dish, a few inches deep, and bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool for several hours. Lightly break up with a wooden spoon, and store in an airtight container until peckish.