Wintry weekend in Vancouver, BC

During my last visit home in December, Geoff and I took a short trip within a trip to Vancouver, BC. It was gray when we left Seattle and unsurprisingly, it was similarly cloudy in Vancouver when we arrived. But as Pacific Northwest-weathered individuals, overcast skies did nothing to deter our weekend!

I open with a couple of photos of downtown Vancouver from Stanley Park. This little lagoon was so calm, Vancouver’s skyline — glassy skyscraper after glassy skyscraper — mirrored symmetrically off the water’s surface.

_MG_5489

_MG_5491

A slight detour to the Vancouver Aquarium brought us to Prospect Park, on the northern tip of Stanley Park. Lions Gate Bridge to the east, West Vancouver (Geoff’s hometown!) to the west.

_MG_5474

_MG_5475

We spent the weekend eating (highlights: Savary Island Pie Co., Banana Leaf and a fantastic sushi place in West Vancouver that would make any land-locked Midwesterner salivate), seeing Geoff’s friends and perusing cookbooks authored by our favorite Canadian chef (despite his American birth, he remains elusive in the United States!). Happy times!

However, our first destination upon arriving was the Vancouver Aquarium. By the looks of this blog, it would appear that I’ve become a burgeoning aquarium enthusiast!

_MG_5504

_MG_5556

_MG_5517

This little sea otter made for quite blurry series of portraits, but I was determined to capture this guy in a very Pokemon Snap! fashion.

_MG_5560

_MG_5565

And of course, an obligatory visit to a Tim Hortons. Fittingly sweet for a sweet weekend.

_MG_5586

Easing a bad day with buttery pecan pralines

_MG_5593

Happy new year, everyone! Sorry it’s been awhile. I went home to Seattle at the end of December to celebrate the holidays and have been settling back into the swing of things here in Illinois since I arrived back in early January. While at home, I spent a wonderful weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia and will have pictures to share very shortly!

The new year should bring positive tidings, no? The prospect of renewal and a promising blank slate certainly breeds optimism among many. But 2013, so far, has felt a bit trying, mostly thanks to my silly right knee. It was just my luck that the week after I registered for a half marathon in mid-December that my right knee began acting up, grinding and preventing me from going up and downstairs with normal ease. And unfortunately, my knee hasn’t seemed to improve since it originally began snapping, crackling and popping. Last night, my right knee popped more loudly than it ever had before and this morning, I woke up to my knee aching, swollen and warm. Needless to say, I’m incredibly frustrated today.

First thing tomorrow morning, I’m calling an orthopedic doctor to get my knee properly checked out for some peace of mind. But to alleviate my feeling of helplessness and frustration today, I turned to Joy the Baker‘s Cookbook and sought out the most sweet dessert I could find in the book. This cookbook, in the past, has been unfailingly curing on bad days (protip: her molten chocolate cakes stamp out homesickness like nothing else). Today feels like a bad day, but it’s certainly nothing that a ridiculous amount of sugar cannot turn around.

These pecan pralines are not only incredibly buttery and sweet, but also incredibly easy to make. When first sampled, approximately an hour after the pecan praline mix was taken off the stove, these pralines were still soft. No teeth clenching or aching jaws from eating these here (and you can trust that many have already been “sampled”)! I’m thinking that these would hold up well in the mail and make for good birthday or holiday dessert packages.

_MG_5591

Pecan pralines from Joy the Baker Cookbook

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups pecans, halved
3 tbsps unsalted butter

Prepare a cooling surface for the pralines by lining two or three baking sheets with parchment paper. Set these aside. In a saucepan on the stove set at medium heat, mix together brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and heavy cream. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring frequently. Once boiling, lower the heat to a low-medium setting and stir until mixture is bubbling slightly and thoroughly mixed. Add butter and pecans and stir until butter has completely melted. Leave mixture to simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, take your saucepan off the heat and let the mixture to cool for 15 minutes before spooning tablespoon-sized pralines onto your baking sheets. Allow pralines to cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from baking sheets. Makes approximately 30 pecan pralines.

May your 2013 be off to a wonderful start!

A rainy morning apple tart

_MG_5435

It’s terribly dark and rainy outside, good fodder for a morning of All Songs Considered and baking something deliciously sweet.

This morning, I turned to the simplest apple tart on Smitten Kitchen. From my narrow perspective on the internet, Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen is my gold standard for what food blogging is. Not only are her photos beautiful, but more significantly, her recipes are sturdy for a novice baker (like myself). Baking is an exercise in precision, so when I find a recipe that allows me to fudge tablespoons or substitute ingredients without consequences of the bland flavor or concerning texture varieties, I’m hooked. And on several occasions, Smitten Kitchen’s recipes have successfully allowed such freedom with tasty results. (Though I would never repeat lemon bars with whole wheat flour, not that it tasted bad at all, it just throws the whole vision of luscious lemon curd on a pale pastry out the window.)

I closely followed Smitten Kitchen’s apple tart recipe today, though I decided to not refrigerate my dough as this was my pending breakfast. It was absolutely delicious and light: I ate a quarter of the tart for breakfast!

_MG_5450

Simplest apple tart, from Smitten Kitchen

For the pate brisee
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut up
3 1/2 tbsp cold water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. When well combined, add in butter and mix until butter chunks are pea-sized. Slowly add water until the dough can hold itself in a ball. At this point, you should shape the dough into a thick disc and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, until cool. Afterward, roll out dough until very thin — about 1/8 inches thick, according to Smitten Kitchen. Lay sheet of dough out in your dish of choice (I went with my favorite porcelain tart dish, but you could probably use a conventional 9-inch pie dish or on a baking sheet and carefully seal the filling in your galette). Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set pate brisee aside.

For the filling
2 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar

Peel, core and thinly-cut apples. Save these scraps for a glaze. Keep slices close together and place and fan out slices in the pate brisee. My strategy here was to first populate the perimeter of the tart and then move inside. I also cut up some oddly shaped slices to fill in gaps of previously misshaped slices. Fold over extra dough hanging off the outside of the dish towards the inside of the tart. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake tart for 45-50 minutes, making sure to turn the tart around in the oven every 15 minutes or so. The tart will be done when the crust has darkened to a golden brown and apples have softened. When done, take out to cool for 15 minutes.

For the apple glaze
1/2 cup sugar
Remaining apple peels and cores

In a pot, combine sugar, remaining apple peels and cores and enough water to barely cover apple scraps. Simmer for 25 minutes and check back regularly to make sure the liquid has just turned into a syrup and is not burning. Either strain apple pieces out of syrup or carefully spoon just syrup out of the pot. After the tart has cooled for at least 15 minutes, brush apple glaze on tart.

Ending fall on a few pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

We’re seeing an atypically warm weekend for December, here in Chicago. According to my weather widget, the current temperature is 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and trust me when I say that I thought I wouldn’t experience any day this warm until next March at the earliest. During a walk with a friend today, I set my peacoat aside in favor of a lighter vest to keep myself warm outside and even that felt a bit too heavy! So in honor of the prototypically autumnal — and certainly not wintry — weather today, I squeezed the very last of fall out of my kitchen and baked something pumpkin.

_MG_5390

Pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, very slightly adapted from a cup of mascarpone

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 can of pumpkin (15 oz.)
1 3/4 rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, white sugar, brown sugar and salt. Once well-mixed, add butter, and once that is well-mixed, add the pumpkin and egg. Fold in oats and chocolate chips. Press plastic wrap such that it tightly covers the dough and cool mixture in refrigerator for an hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon dough onto baking sheet and make sure to leave at least an inch and half between cookies. Bake for 15-16 minutes. Recipe produces approximately 32 cookies.

_MG_5389

_MG_5393

Sweet, light and fluffy. A bit like my vest. I do have to note that these do not need to be covered to stay good. They are extremely moist, on account of all of the pumpkin, and make for a great breakfast cookie!

Smoked salmon and onion quinoa, a taste of home and here

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I spent the holiday at home, in a city a tad outside of Seattle, Wash. Though my hometown has seen new buildings constructed, old shops close and in our own cul-de-sac, neighbors moving in and out, it’s still very much my same, much-loved home. My Thanksgiving was spent stuffing my face with stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green beans. Imagine only a slightly more classy Thanksgiving edition of chubby bunny. But now I’m back in the Midwest, likely five pounds heavier (five pounds of guilt or joy, the jury’s out), so I’m trying to restore my diet to 1) one that consists of a normal, healthy quantity of food and 2) one that is a bit more balanced.

I love carbs. I love bread. And I could also watch this movie every day.

After coming home early this week, I found myself still a bit homesick for the Pacific Northwest. So when I saw some smoked salmon at the grocery store, I swallowed the inflated Midwestern price and brought it. Hot smoked salmon — a happy middle ground between deliciously extreme salmon candy and lox — is an instant taste of home. One of my Mom’s perennial dinner dishes is a simple smoked salmon and onion pasta, which she learned to make after staying with a friend in Italy and after bringing some SeaBear smoked salmon as a gift for their hospitality. Apparently when you present an Italian a slightly foreign-looking meat, they throw it into some pasta. Great tactic, excellent recipe.

But for as much I as I love my pasta and bread, I’m also a bit tired of refined carbohydrates right now (or at least until my next holiday trip home!). As such, I turned to quinoa, a grain alternative I only first started eating when I came to Illinois for college. So tonight, I’ve married foods from two places and times in my past: smoked salmon and onion (home) quinoa (school).

Smoked salmon and onion quinoa

1 cup quinoa (dry)
1 large yellow onion
3/4 lb. hot smoked salmon (but quite honestly, the more the merrier)
3 tbsp olive oil (a generous splash)
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, just a pinch

Rinse quinoa thoroughly before throwing it into a large saucepan on a stove. Add two cups of water and bring quinoa and water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, coarsely dice onion into approximately one inch pieces. Bring a pan up to medium-high heat and cook onion pieces and olive oil together until onion pieces are evenly softened but not yet burnt nor beginning to carmelize. Add a generous pinch or two of salt and a smaller, single pinch of black pepper. Reduce heat to a low setting. Peel off skin of salmon and break smoked salmon into bite-sized chunks over the onions. Stir salmon and onions together at low heat. If you sample this now, it will be very salty, but trust me, it will balance out with the quinoa. When ready, fluff quinoa with a fork before adding the salmon and onion to the quinoa. Stir and serve immediately.

I ate mine with some steamed broccoli. On a mission to to eat more vegetables.