24 November 2014

peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies

The other day after dinner me and my brother agreed we wanted cookies. Specifically peanut butter cookies. No other cookie would do. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic... in reality it sounded more like "yo let's make peanut butter cookies!" Since we don't know any recipe off by heart, we pulled out the trust 'ol Joy of Cooking. Let me start by saying the obvious: it's an absolute classic and everyone should own it. What makes it even better is that with the older versions they take you through "out of date" techniques like how to skin a squirrel. Pretty useful if you ask me.

In this recipe we decided change things up a bit since we didn't have any white sugar and chocolate is always a good idea. Instead of a half cup brown sugar and a half cup white, we just used a full cup of brown. Also, we cut up some very decadent chocolate truffles (the ones from Costco) into large piece that we threw in the batter at the last minute. The process for peanut butter cookies is pretty simple and I'll drop the recipe down below.

The only thing to remember is to watch how long you bake them for! Peanut butter is liquidy to begin with so even if they seem raw after 6 minutes, I promise they are baked through and will harden. I took them out when the edges started to brown, which might have been a bit too much. Either way, they had just the right amount of sweetness and peanut butter softness.

1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 to ½ cup flour
½ cup butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chocolate chips or chopped truffles 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. 
  2. Melt the butter slightly and blend in a large mixing bowl with a whisk. Add the sugar and blend until creamy and smooth. 
  3. Crack in the egg and blend fully. Then add the vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Be sure to add the vanilla before the other dry ingredients so everything will blend nicely. 
  4. Mix in dat peanut butter. Warning: your arm might get a little sore here. 
  5. Sift in the flour and mix in folding and scraping motions so the flour and peanut butter mix are totally incorporated. Add in the chocolate chucks and mix lightly. 
  6. Roll into small 1 inch balls and place onto parchment paper. Using a fork, flatten the balls using the tines in the same direction. 
  7. Pop in the oven for about 6 minutes. When done, be sure to place them on a wire rack to cool. And enjoy!
Do you get together with friend or family to bake goodies? Got a favourite recipe? Let me know how you do peanut butter cookies!

19 November 2014

Pre-Winter Picks

Montreal is always a magical place, but I especially love it during this time of year - cold enough for big knit sweaters, but not quite cold enough to bring out the double-layer faux-fur-lined parka. It's always an experience, walking through the city with the cold air on my face and twinkling fairy lights lining the streets. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favourite things at the moment!

Vance Joy came out came out with Dream Your Life Away back in September and I am absolutely loving it! Every song is just so heartfelt, honest, and comforting. The album is an emotional roller-coaster, from the excitement of new love, to quiet introspection, to nostalgic bliss. I have a serious emotional connection with the entire album.

Remember Paramore's former drummer, Zac Farro? He went solo a while ago under the new moniker, HalfNoise and released a self-titled EP. I really loved that he was experimenting with new beats and playing around with this very ambient but playful sound. The EP is short, but it's an explosion of sound and expression. He recently released his first full solo album, Volcano Crowe. Inspired by the wonder and beauty of New Zealand, he creates a breathtaking sonic landscape and takes the listener on a journey through his creative world.

Things to do
I visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal a while back and went to see the Van Gogh à Kadinsky exposition with a few friends, one of whom is an art history major. It was an enlightening experience, seeing art that helped shape modern Western culture. I also got a lesson on feminism in the world of art from previously mentioned art history major, which was quite interesting. A very thought-provoking topic of discussion was that of the female form in art: there's a lot of it. Some representations are inherently sexual while others are not, and that poses the question, where do we draw the line? How can we call a voyeuristic painting of bathing women art when it is blatant sexual harassment? How do we know if an innocent painting of a girl is just that and not an obsessive sexual fantasy of the painter? Why isn't the male form viewed with the same kind of objectification and reduction?

I'm currently on a quest to find the best Indian food in town in terms of price, freshness, and strength of spice. I have also been experimenting with group meals and party food. I recently hosted a burger night for some friends, so hopefully I'll have time to post some pictures and recipes in the next few days! For now, here's a sweet and simple treat:

Caramelized Pecans:

  • 1 cup of pecans
  • 1-2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch of course sea salt (optional)

  1. Lightly toast your pecans in a small dry frying pan over medium high heat, until you can just start smelling the nuttiness. The essential oils are being released, and you'll end up with rich tasting (and smelling) pecans. Set aside to cool.
  2. In the same pan, add just a bit of water to cover the bottom of the pan. Add maple syrup and pour sugar into a mound in the middle of the pan. Do not mix/stir. Heat on medium high until the water boils. Once the water starts boiling, make sure you keep watch of your sugar, as it will burn easily. The sugar will start dissolving and melting as the water boils. Once all the water evaporates, you'll be left with a thick bubbling mass of sugar.
  3. ***DO NOT leave your sugar unattended
  4. After a few minutes, you'll notice the bubbling mass browning. It's caramelizing! To test whether or not it's ready, get some syrup on the tip of a fork. Try to drizzle it over a cup of cold water. When it drips into the cold water, it should form a ball. If it forms strings, you're not quite there yet, and if you hear a crack as it enters the water, then definitely take it off the heat.
  5. When the syrup is ready, remove from heat and toss the pecans in it. Allow to cool a bit in the pan (but not too much or you'll never get them out!)
  6. Grease a baking sheet generously with some oil and pour the pecan mixture onto it in a thin layer. Don't worry if they all stick together. Once cool, you can break them apart by hand if you're strong enough, or smash them with a hammer.
This is a great garnish or decorative bit for desserts. They're also absolutely delicious! If you're feeling fancy, try pulling the sugar into interesting shapes as it's cooling - just don't burn yourself! 

- Nicky

13 November 2014

Brussels Sprouts

Recently, I got an entire stalk of Brussels sprouts in my CSA basket. Many people are appalled by them, and for good reason. If not cooked right, they end up tasting really funky - and not in a good way! I've been experimenting with different ways I can use them in cooking, and I'd like to share with you some successes and failures!

DO NOT overcook them in boiling water; most people get turned off from Brussels sprouts' gooey texture and weird aftertaste reminiscent of old gym socks when they're boiled in water for too long.

DO eat them raw and thinly chopped with a light, acidic dressing. Lemon juice + olive oil + salt never go wrong, and eating Brussels sprouts raw removes the problem of overcooking entirely. If you chop them thin enough, people might not even notice that it's Brussels sprouts!

DO lightly sautée them on high heat with a bit of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Top off with some freshly toasted sesame seeds for an interesting Asian kick. Cooking for a short time on high heat will soften the outer leaves without fully cooking the insides (that's where all the nasty comes from).

DO gratinate them. There's something magical about being covered in creamy béchamel sauce, cheese, and crunchy bread crumbs. Just make sure the Brussels sprouts go into the oven raw so they don't overcook!

DO/DON'T braise them. I personally enjoy them braised, but I would understand why others might not. While they do get mushy, they're really good at absorbing the flavour of the braising liquid while still maintaining their distinctive taste. I made some braised chicken with Brussels sprouts in a tomato and herb sauce that turned out really well. If you're into that, give it a try!

**Many apologies for the lack of pictures. I'm a broke university student without a camera.

9 November 2014

autumn/winter book lovin'

There's nothing I like more than sitting around with plaid wool blankets surrounding me and a book that I am head over heels in love with. This is usually accompanied by the endless relief that exams are finally over (or at least they will be soon!). I would say I'm a pretty avid reader, it lessens up when uni starts up but I love reading and I've been trying to branch out into different genres.

If winter reads could be summed up into a theme for me, they definitely lean towards dark, brooding, and slightly haunting. It has to be the weather and shorter day lengths because I don't like to fill my world with miserable topics! So instead of compiling a lengthy list of my favourite murder mysteries and life-questioners, I put together a tidy little range of books that try and encompass the dark autumn/winter weather as well as the new year ambition. I'll try and keep the descriptions short and sweet!

First off it's The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountain. Written by the co-founder of Jansport Skip Yowell, it's a semi biography, semi instruction manual. This is my first delve into the world of non-fiction (besides biology textbooks...) and it really surprised me. The amazingly cool cover aside, it's filled with advice thats relevant to business and personal life, inspiring mountain climbing tales, and a fun timeline of their company.

Juliet, Naked is a novel by Nick Hornby, a well known writer from the UK. It follows a woman in her mid 30's and an aging folk musician as their lives intertwine from across the Atlantic. It's one of the sadder reads since it's generally about failure to fulfill ones goals, but it's seriously good. Beautifully crafted and tinged with dark humour, it makes you want to read the rest of Hornby's collection.

A couple years back, I blazed through The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larson within a couple months. Since then I've expanded to other Scandinavian writers, specifically Jo Nebso. The Redbreast was the first of this series that I read, although it's technically the 3rd, and I gravitate to him whenever winter rolls around. If you like a good murder mystery with a ton of interesting characters then I can't recommend this one enough! It's about a Norwegian detective named Harry Hole as he tries to find a murderer who he believes is behind a series of seemingly connected shootings. The research that went into this single book is unbelievable and is what makes Nesbo such a great writer.

Finally, we have On The Road. A classic by Jack Kerouac, that I don't think I'll ever be able to truly express my love for. The whole beat generation was so pivotal in history and this novel sums it up completely. Dean Moriarty with his mad shaking infatuation for life and phrases like "sleepy San Francisco lights" made it easy for me to fall in love with during last winter break. It made me reexamine how I value all elements in my life and was major inspiration to go travelling. I urge everyone to read it if they haven't already!

What are your favourite books of the moment? Anything that particularly screams "autumn/winter"? Let me know, I'm putting together I giant list for when I'm done exams!

7 November 2014

Autumn Picks and Faves

Autumn is fast approaching, as I'm typing this I'm wrapped in a scarf with very grey stormy clouds threatening me with rain. Somehow I can't help but be totally happy with this change in weather. Summer was quite lengthy, lasting almost four months for us university students who didn't take summer courses- plus the heat in Vancouver went way into September!

Personally, I like to switch up my music taste as everything starts to cool down so instead of more upbeat floaty tunes I turn it down and go for a more mellow folk indie rock sound. For something a little more indie is Mac DeMarco's first album 2. This west coast guy makes some pretty chill songs, Sherrill and My Kind of Woman are my particular favourites! One of the most beautiful soundtracks goes to Arcade Fire's one for Her. Honestly, it's perfect. I love me some movie soundtracks and this one is just so elaborate and dazzling, and it doesn't help that I'm in love with the film as well!

I want to venture out and try one new country's cuisine this month, go for Ethiopian! Served on a large pancake-like bread called injera and eaten with your hands, Ethiopian is wonderfully cozy and somehow manages to hit the comfort food sweet spot. The dishes are, for the most part, dry and spicy. They usually consist of vegetarian friendly legume dishes like chickpea and lentils, but there are always meat options available. If you happen to be in the Commercial Drive area in Vancouver, I highly recommend it! It's decently priced, very cozy, and a great fall experience. 

  • If there's anyone I turn to for photos to stalk and drool over its Jade's. Her insta is pretty darn beautiful as well! 
  • Ai Weiwei photographs. They're stunning- specifically his from when he first moved to New York from China. I went to see an exhibit of around 200 of his photos at my university's art gallery and I loved every one of them. Specifically the stunning documentary photographs of rioting over racism and some of Allen Ginsberg. 
  • Finally, I went to see Stromae a few weeks ago in Vancouver as a last minute whim and don't regret a thing! His show was so amazing, energetic, and hilariously bilingual. A little background info is here, along with my favourite tunes here, here, and here

Got any special events or ideas for autumn? Any music recommendations? Let me know! For myself, bring on the sweaters, scarves, and mugs of tea.

24 October 2014

Sha-lin Noodle House | Restaurant Adventures

For the most part, Vancouver manages to satisfy every foodie niche from Japanese ramen to true Indian samosas to Mexican burritos. Recently, my family has discovered Sha-lin (aka Shaolin) Noodle House. This stand alone casual Chinese restaurant is seriously amazing, because they actually make their own noodles and dumplings! Located on Broadway Sha-lin Noodle House is quickly becoming one of my favourites and all I want to do is bring all my friends here.

First of all, their menu is ridiculous. I can't even count the amount of dishes that they have available it's that extensive. With about 5 different varieties of noodles produced in house, they offer soups, stirfrys, to other general noodles dishes. We had the tofu and vegetable dragging noodle soup and curried chicken dragging noodles. You guys... it was so gooooood! The broth was light but flavourful and the sliced tofu was absolutely perfect. The curried noodles were pretty darn satisfying as well, made with true Chinese curry.

The noodles are what make this place so unique. You can actually watch the chefs stretch out the noodles in the front but I didn't want to snap a pic, that would be a tad too strange. One slight little issue is that not all the noodles are cooked evenly, but it's rare and hardly noticeable. The other star of this restaurant are their homemade pan fried dumplings which are honestly more like buns. With the buns you get  the choice of veggie or meat filling, or half and half. As much as I love the concept and the fact that they're homemade, their a little too oily and heavy for my taste. But if you're going to visit please do try them, they're too cool to pass up!

Also, for a restaurant on the west side of Vancouver it's so well priced. A bowl of soup will run you about $9, pretty much all of their dishes are in that price range. Cherry on top if you ask me! This place is great if you want to bring a couple friends to catch up or just hang out; the dumpling/buns are made for sharing!

21 October 2014

What's in my fridge?

I don't actually store my garlic in the fridge because they can last for weeks at room temperature if you keep the bulbs whole. In any case, I always have garlic and ginger on hand.

These particular garlic bulbs I got in my CSA (community supported agriculture) order, so they're fresh, local - and frankly, huge! A single clove of this garlic is bigger than three regular cloves of garlic you can get at major supermarkets. The ginger I got from a little grocery store next door that sells local, organic produce. From curry and kimchi to gingerbread and garlic butter - I'm well stocked up for that and everything in between! 

13 October 2014

How to Ace Gluten-Free Baking Mixes

Going gluten-free is a pretty big trend at the moment, but whether the choice is for health concerns or other reasons, this short guide will help you amp up your gluten-free baking game. Lots of baking companies offer up pre made cup-for-cup flour replacements, but transforming them into baked goods of your own liking is the hard part. Of course it all depends on the type of baked good but usually the consistency to aim for is somewhere in-between crumbly and wet, with just the right amount of fluff.  In the photos, I tested a few ideas in some blueberry waffles with a Cloud Nine gluten-free cup-for-cup flour replacement. Served with some sliced banana, peanut butter, and vanilla yogurt they were the perfect lazy day breakfast.

Make sure you have lots of liquids:  I've found that the amount and types of liquids you add to your baking mix really affects it's consistency. As a rule of thumb, when working with coconut flour (and most gluten-free flours) you want to add a lot more liquids into the mixture too keep it from becoming too crumbly. Personally, I use a mixture of eggs, oil, water, yogurt, milk to create the right amount of hold without being too moist. Eggs should be included to keep the batter creamy; oil and water act as binding agents; yogurt is another great moisture booster that, if using the right flavour, can add a nice vanilla taste; and milk like when baking with regular flour fluffs it all up. You just add whichever liquid you need depending on the recipe!

Mixing is key: When it comes to physically churning and working the baking mixes, there are a couple things to keep in mind. One is that the less you mix, the less it's going to stick together.  Conversely, the more you mix the more the ingredients are going to get worked together and the thicker it will be. I find that if you really put some arm power into mixing, it turns into a very gooey, almost gum-like consistency. Don't be scared though, it doesn't translate to the final product! Instead it will give everything a bit more hold, and become less like a crumbly disaster that no one wants. 

Switch up your flours: Even when using gluten-free baking mixes, I like to add in other sorts of flours to alter the texture, taste, and consistency. Many different flours are already found in these mixes, but each flour has its own flavour and feel. Coconut flour, for example, is very dry and crumbly whereas chestnut flour is a little more solid while having a distinct flavour. So when I decided to make some gluten-free waffles (pictured below!) using a mix, I threw in my leftover chestnut flour which added a beautiful sweet nutty flavour and thickened the mixture. Switching up flours, or adding different ones in to flour replacements can yield some yummy surprises and aid in the overall taste and consistency. Also, it's always great to make something pre made your own!

Power to the powder!: For the waffles, I added lots of baking powder. I didn't really know how they would turn out but since it's a leavening agent, I knew no matter what it would fluff them up. Turns out with the 2 or so teaspoons baking powder I added was the perfect amount! Some baking mixes might have leavening agents already inside but it doesn't hurt to add a bit more. The final product will be a lot lighter and fluffier, as opposed to the dense baking powder-less alternatives.
Now go, be free, have fun, and make a pre-made mixture unique and your own! Let us know how it turns out in the comments, or share any more tips that you discovered!