Squash and Proscuitto Risotto

Squash and Proscuitto Risotto

Some people are culinarily inclined from an early age.  They stand on little footstools beside their mothers in the kitchen rolling cookie dough or kneading bread.  I have only a few memories of cooking during my childhood.  For me, it was a risotto, carefully stirred over the front burner of the stove in the first home I had bought with my husband that gave me the confidence I needed to experiment with fine cooking.

Though I had always had a taste for gourmet cuisine, my own kitchen exploits were simple at best.  Dried packaged pasta dishes with extra vegetables added in, pizza with a pre-prepared crust, casseroles made from canned soup:  my early cooking was assisted substantially by Lipton, Ragu and Campbell.  I don’t remember what inspired me to try making risotto that day five years ago, but there I was, hovering over my laptop in the kitchen, reading and re-reading Jamie Oliver’s recipe for simple risotto.  I melted a generous spoonful of butter in a saucepan with some olive oil and cooked onions and garlic until they were translucent and scented the house with their savoury aroma.  Thinking it was a little strange but trusting the recipe and quietening my instincts, I poured the hard grains of arborio rice into the mixture and stirred them for a minute.  This I timed on the clock despite not being the type of cook to do anything precisely:  this recipe seemed just complicated enough to me that I thought better of my wanton urges in the kitchen.

It was when I added a large glass of white wine into the pot and was greeted with one of the most alluring smells a cook can possibly produce – onions, garlic, butter and wine sizzling together – that I was convinced I was on the right track.  Truthfully, in retrospect, now that I have added mushroom and spinach, squash and prosciutto, and lemon asparagus risottos to my repertoire, I realize the recipe is quite simple.  The most complicated ingredient is the patience required to slowly stir the rice, massaging the starch from the grain, loosening it into wine and broth.  This process is meditative, and I believe, when approached with a healthy dose of contemplation and perhaps even adoration, it makes the difference between a lovely, fragrant risotto that melts across your plate and a sticky, starchy glop.

I make this dish when I’m in the mood to stir, to think about my day while staring at the backsplash.  Conveniently, it is also incredibly delicious and very impressive when served to dinner guests.


Here’s what you need:

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced

6 slices of prosciutto

2 cups arborio rice, uncooked

1L chicken broth

1 glass of wine…or more

1 medium onion, chopped finely

3 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

~4 tbsp butter

~2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Add the diced squash to an oven-safe dish (I use the 8×11 Pyrex that I use for roasting vegetables) and toss with a glug of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.  Place this in the oven and cook until squash is soft.  Once the squash is mostly done, layer the prosciutto on top of the squash and broil briefly, or until the prosciutto begins to crisp.


Meanwhile, pour the broth into a pot and set on the stove over low heat.  Using a large pot, begin to warm the olive oil and half of the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add in the onions and garlic.  Cook these over low heat so that the onions begin to sweat and become soft but they do not brown.

Once the onions are cooked, toss in the rice and stir quickly until the rice is transluscent – about one minute.  Now add in the glass of wine.  Start to stir the rice and liquid mixture, massaging the starch out of the rice.  As the liquid is absorbed, add a ladle full of the warm broth.  Keep adding broth by the ladleful as the previously added liquid is absorbed by the rice.

Once you have used all the broth, try the rice to see if it’s done to your liking.  If it needs more cooking, just warm up some water in the pot you used for the broth and add that.

When the rice is finished, add in the rest of the butter, the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and let the butter and cheese melt for about five minutes.

Tear up 2/3 of the prosciutto and add it and the squash to the finished risotto and stir.  Use the remaining prosciutto to garnish, with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese too, if you wish.



Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s book “Jamie’s Kitchen”

Edamame Walnut Dip

Edamame Walnut Dip

I’ve had a bag of edamame in my freezer for an embarrassingly long time now.  I just couldn’t figure out how I wanted to use it.  I was perusing one of my cookbooks the other day and found this recipe.  It’s delicious – garlicky, protein-packed, and the perfect way to eat frozen edamame.


My neighbour gifted this lovely dish to Purple House Cafe. Cool eh? Thanks Martine!

Here’s what you need:

1 cup edamame, thawed

3/4 cup walnuts

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 garlic clove

1/4 tsp. salt

Here’s what you do:

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Serve with crackers or fresh veggies.

P.S.:  I used vegan sour cream in place of the plain yogurt and it was still awesome.


Recipe adapted from Katie Downey, my pal and fellow doula!

Vanilla Bean Sugar Coated Chocolate Cream Filled Doughnuts. Yes.

Vanilla Bean Sugar Coated Chocolate Cream Filled Doughnuts.  Yes.

Okay, enough with the kale and edamame.  Let’s get serious about doughnuts here.

These doughnuts are the perfect winter afternoon project. They take a few hours and involve things like extremely hot oil, fancy-pants vanilla beans and eggs that need to be heated to thick but not scrambled.  But you can do it.  If I can do it, you definitely can.  I was notorious, in chemistry class, for following all the directions for an experiment to the letter and still screwing it up, but I managed to make these tasty little confections with resounding success.  They are perfect chased with a cup of strong coffee and shared with friends.


Heres what you need:

For the doughnuts

2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast

2 tbsp. warm water

3 ¼-3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough

1 cup milk, room temperature

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

3 large egg yolks

3 tbsp. sugar

1 ½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. cinnamon

For the vanilla sugar

1 1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

2 pinches salt

For the chocolate pastry cream

4 egg yolks

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

3 tbsp. cocoa powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup whole milk

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

~ 6 cups of vegetable oil for deep frying (or 3-4” in the pan/pot you intend to use)

NOTE:  you will also need a candy or deep frying thermometer and an icing bag fitted with a medium round tip

To make the doughnuts and vanilla sugar

This is my kitchen preparing for the task.

This is my kitchen preparing for the task.

Stir the yeast and warm water together in a bowl until dissolved, and let the yeast stand (or “proof”) for five minutes until it looks foamy.

Set up your stand mixer with a dough hook and mix together the yeast mixture, the flour, milk, butter, egg yolks, sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Beat at low speed until a soft dough forms.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for another 3 minutes.  The dough will be soft and sticky – if it’s too sticky to handle, add up to a ½ cup more flour.  Then, scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl to ensure all the dough is incorporated, dust the dough lightly with flour and cover with plastic wrap and then a tea towel.  Let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk.  (Now is a good time to make your chocolate pastry cream and vanilla sugar).


Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and use a floured rolling pin to roll it out until it is about a ½ inch thick.  Use a 3” cookie cutter (I just use a glass) to cut as many doughnuts out as you can.  (note:  if you decide to re-roll and use the scraps, the doughnuts made from these pieces will be tougher.  And funny looking.   Save them for yourself!).  Place the doughnuts on a lightly floured baking sheet and let them rise until they’re slightly puffy – about 30 minutes.


Embracing the funny-looking-ness of re-rolled doughnuts in the name of less waste!

While the doughnuts rise, make the vanilla sugar by combining the sugar, vanilla bean scrapings and salt in a bowl and using your fingers to incorporate the vanilla into the sugar.

Heat 3-4” of oil in a heavy pot until it registers 350 F on a candy or deep frying thermometer.  Fry the doughnuts, two at a time, turning over with a slotted spoon when they’re puffed and golden brown on each side (usually this takes ~1 minute per side).  Before removing the doughnuts, quickly submerge them in oil and then transfer immediately to the vanilla sugar mixture.  Toss in sugar and set aside on a paper towel to cool.  (NOTE:  ensure that the oil in the frying pan returns to 350 F before you put the next batch of doughnuts in).

To make the chocolate pastry cream

In a medium pan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt.


Slowly whisk in the milk.  Place the pan over medium heat and stir, almost constantly, so that the milk doesn’t burn and the eggs don’t scramble.  Just before the mixture comes to a boil, it will begin to thicken quite a bit.  At this time, remove it from the heat and continue whisking it until it’s smooth and about the consistency of pudding.  Add the chocolate chunks, butter and vanilla extract and stir until they are melted in.


Transfer the hot cream to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap so the plastic touches the surface of the cream.  Chill for ~2 hours.

To fill the doughnuts with pastry cream

Handle the doughnuts carefully, as they will already be covered in sugar.  With the end of a slender-handled spoon (or similar instrument), create a hole in the side of each doughnut.  Fill a small icing bag fitted with a medium round tip with the chocolate cream and twist the bag to seal, ensuring that there are no air bubbles (this will require you to squeeze some pastry cream out to ensure a consistent flow.  This is best done directly onto one’s index finger so as to simultaneously test the quality and flavour of the cream ;o).  Insert the tip into the hole in each doughnut and squeeze pastry cream into the doughnut until it feels full (if you fill it too much, chocolate will ooze out a little bit.  Worse things have happened).

Note:  It’s best to serve these doughnuts on the same day you make them – on the second day the vanilla sugar will dissolve into the doughnut.  They’ll still taste good, but they’ll look a little less lovely.


Recipe from Joy the Baker

Rice Paper Rolls

Rice Paper Rolls

Several years ago now, I was in Lao for the Lao New Year.  It’s a bucket list-type thing to do:  if it’s not on your bucket list, you really need to look into it.  For three days, the small northern Lao town of Luang Prabang was filled with throngs of locals and tourists engaged in the biggest water fight I’d ever seen or heard of.  Buckets, hoses, little plastic guns.  And sometimes paint, mud, brightly coloured powdered dye.  It was safe to expect to be soaking wet most of the time.

Because of or in spite of the drenched mania that abounded in the streets, I have very fond memories of my time in Luang Prabang.  I met some wonderful fellow Canadians with whom I hitched a ride to a waterfall where we swam in our clothes and talked about the dreams we had for when we returned home from the altered-reality existence of backpacking.  I perched in front of a bonfire drinking Lao whiskey and crunching on cucumbers with the owners of the guesthouse where I stayed.  A cool early morning run took me uphill to a temple where a line of hundreds of monks received donations of rice from the locals.  I wandered daily through a street market filled with vendors selling everything from dead bats to silk skirts.  It was there that I discovered fresh rice paper rolls.

Fresh rolls are so common on menus in Canadian restaurants and the ingredients so easy to source now that this discovery doesn’t really seem like a very significant revelation.  But when I took my first bite of the cold, crunchy roll with a blend of herbs and a flavour that I couldn’t quite place at the time, it felt kind of revolutionary.  One of those moments that has your mind racing to the next day, month, year, trying to figure out how you might procure more of these aromatic, noodley treats in the future.

When I moved home and met the man of my dreams and got a dog, we moved into a house with a fenced yard on the wrong side of town.  Luckily for us, though, this house was located almost directly across from a pretty darn authentic Vietnamese restaurant.  And this family-run mini-mall establishment was the oasis in my fresh roll desert until I took a cooking class with my best pal and learned how to make them on my own.


Here’s what you need:


Julienned carrot

Julienned napa cabbage

Julienne red peppers

2 tbsp mint, chiffonade

2 tbsp cilantro, chiffonade

2 tbsp basil, chiffonade

Cooked glass noodles


2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp sweet chili sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Rice paper wrappers

Spinach leaves

Here’s what you do:

Okay, I know I didn’t include quantities for the rolls.  It’s sort of an eye-up-the-proportions-and-go-with-your-gut-instinct thing.  I know you can do it.  Mix up the vinagrette and add the vegetables and the noodles (note:  drop them into boiling water very briefly, just until they’re pliable, then strain and allow to cool slightly).  Let the mixture soak for at least half an hour.


Soak a rice paper wrapper in warm water until it is just soft.  Lay it on a large towel on your counter and lay spinach in a line down the middle of the wrapper.  Top with the noodle mixture and roll like a burrito.  The rice paper should be tough enough that you don’t rip it, but flexible enough to make a wrap that will stick together.  It might take a few tries to get into the swing of things (just eat the evidence).  If you tear the rice paper you can always add another paper over top to seal the roll.  Set rolls on a serving dish as you complete them.


Note:  these are awesome served with sweet chili sauce.  Also, I’ve added chicken, shrimp, and/or tofu with delicious results. 

Recipe adapted from a recipe provided by Chef Michael Howell at a Vietnamese cooking class IMG_2792

Marshmallow Fondant

Marshmallow Fondant

Last winter, my sister came to visit and to meet her new niece (my daughter Ada)- who was, at the time, about two months old and just as adorable as she is now.  Somehow, on this visit, it became apparent that my sister and I had simultaneously yet independently developed an intense love of baking since the last time we’d seen each other.  She had recently scored a cupcake decorating set and had made some beautiful cakes.

We decided to undertake a couple of baking projects that neither of us would have dared to try on our own.  Together, with my husband and her boyfriend (now fiance!  woot woot!)  tending to the baby into the wee hours of the night, we designed, baked and decorated a cake using a recipe for homemade marshmallow fondant.

Canon Rebel 2012 005

Now, we try to keep up this tradition of baking fancy schmancy cakes whenever we’re together (hence our most recent birthday cake for Ada).  As promised last week, here is the marshmallow fondant recipe we use.

Here’s what you need:

Shortening, for greasing up your hands and your stand mixer

15 oz. miniature marshmallows

2 tbsp. water

2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. light corn syrup

1 tsp. clear vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1/2 tsp. salt

7-8 cups icing sugar

Here’s what you do:

Use the shortening to grease your stand mixer bowl and dough hook, a couple of spatulas, and a microwave-safe bowl.

Throw your marshmallows and the water in the microwave-safe bowl and heat in thirty second intervals, stirring as necessary, until the mixture becomes liquid.  Then add in the lemon juice, corn syrup, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt.

Pour about six cups of icing sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and create a well in the middle.  Pour in the marshmallow mixture and begin to mix on low speed with your dough hook, until the sugar is mostly incorporated.  When the mixture begins to get sticky, add another cup of icing sugar and keep mixing.

You may or may not need the last cup of icing sugar, depending on the consistency of your fondant.  It should be tacky but shouldn’t stick to your fingers.  It’s a little like play-dough, and it should be nice and smooth.

*if your stand mixer is having a rough time with the fondant, remove the fondant from the mixer and finish kneading by hand.  Be sure to coat your hands in shortening to make it easier to work the fondant.

Form the fondant into a smooth ball and wrap tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and then store in an air-tight container.  You should let the fondant rest 2-3 hours before using it.

To add colour to your fondant, simply knead in the desired amount of gel food colouring.  Remember to coat your hands in shortening to facilitate this process.


IMG_0016Canon Rebel 2012 012

This recipe comes courtesy of Annie’s Eats which is one of my favourite food blogs.