Monthly Archives: August 2011

Socca love.

Last week I went on a solo vacation to Nice for 4 days. I’ve been in the library all summer, and I am about to start a new job, so I needed to relax a little. An exciting fact about Nice is that it is the birthplace of socca, the magical chickpea pancakes that I have been so excited about before. I finally, at long last, got to eat proper socca!

This lead to the realization, of course, that my own socca was not particularly authentic. I have been panfrying it, and making it thin like a pancake, but the real deal was thicker and baked at super high heat in a woodfired oven.

I had socca twice – first at a place called Chez René Socca in the old town. It was served in a messy heap, rather thick and somewhat mushy. Like it wasn’t quite cooked through. I didn’t swoon. The second place I went was another story. Chez Pipo, in the Vieux Port area, was highlighted by David Lebovitz as the best place in Nice for socca. I think he knew what he was talking about. OMG so delicious!

It was served like this, in neat, crispy wedges. It was quite salty, which was probably one of the reasons why it was so good. I wolfed down the entire plate, even after having already sampled their pissaladière. I wanted to order more.

I wondered how they managed to give it that crispiness, and the uneven surface, so as I was leaving the restaurant I peaked over the little barrier separating the restaurant from the cooking area. I saw that when the socca was about half cooked, it was taken out of the oven. A guy then used what looked like a butter knife to “ruffle” the entire surface very thoroughly, before putting it back into the oven. Very interesting.

As for me, I am sticking to my pan-fried fake socca for now, mainly because I don’t have an appropriate oven dish to bake socca in. For dinner today, I made a simple batter of 1/2 cup each of chickpea flour and water (sifting the flour to avoid lumps), with a bit of herbs, salt and oil added in. Then, I stirred in the leftover cooked millet from Friday’s dinner. I cooked it in a generously oiled frying pan, and I didn’t even break it as I flipped it. Really tasty!

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I really <3 the Atlantic.

Two weeks ago, I was saying my goodbyes to Toronto, a city where I have spent four of the past six years and where I have largely been incredibly happy and always felt very much at home. It is also a city where I have eaten extremely well – few places so well as at the Atlantic on Dundas, Nathan Isberg’s quirky little restaurant.

My husband and I have a long-standing admiration for this chef – early in our relationship we celebrated my admission to graduate studies at Oxford with an incredibly memorable meal at Coca on Queen, where he used to work. It was a surprise menu, and the deliciousness just kept coming. He quit and Coca closed down, but we were ecstatic when he opened the Atlantic in the spring of 2010. In June of 2010 we had our first incredible meal there, and I particularly remember the quail. We were talking about where we last had such incredibly well prepared quail, until we realized that it was, of course, at Coca in the hands of the same man.

(My last visit, with a friend back in May, is described here.)

So when departure was getting imminent, there was really only one place I wanted to go for a final dinner. Only, I hadn’t actually planned things very well. I knew he didn’t take reservations for the bar, so we figured we would just go at 7 pm and hope for a seat. Upon arrival, Chef Isberg was outside of the restaurant, and I asked if he was open yet. No, in fact he was closed Saturdays and Sundays all summer for renovations, he responded. Oh no, I thought, I leave Monday and I don’t know when I’ll be back 😦

Sensing my disappointment, perhaps frustrated with the renovations, he offered to cook for us anyway, if we were in a pinch (!!) If we could wait half an hour, and would take what he served up? Ehem – gluten, dairy and nut free…? we inquired. No problem! he responded, he was “moving in that direction” himself. Was he sure? Was he just trying to be polite? No, he insisted, he was not a polite person… We could hardly believe that something so lovely was happening in real life, and, remembering our first Coca surprise menu, we couldn’t say no to such an offer.

After a drink down the street at the Hen House, we returned 30 minutes later, to be met by a table for two set in the window, with a large sunflower as decoration. Then, the food started coming, accompanied by an endless supply of Niagara wine. It was an incredible meal, a more perfect adieu to the Toronto I love than I could have ever thought up myself.

The pictures are of slightly variable quality – taken with my old iPhone and in progressively bad light..

Salad of spinach, red quinoa, red cabbage, peach and nepitella (I believe)

A second salad, of raw sockeye salmon, yellow zucchini, chervil and wakame seaweed

The best risotto I have ever eaten, of Italian black and brown rice and mushrooms

Pickerel on a bed of “smashed” potatoes with tomato and basil, with a carrot sauce (I forget what the herb was)

Pure Valrhona chocolate mousse, by the Hervé This water method – the best chocolate mousse I have ever had (It was dark by this point, so the picture is poor)

I walked out of the restaurant hours later, drunk on wine and love and goodness, on a high of good food. It was just… perfection…

Black bean espresso brownies.

Black bean brownies, you say? Might not sound very appetizing, but I swear they taste nothing like black beans! I have posted a recipe for really good gluten-free, vegan brownies here before, and these might not quite stack up to those, but they are actually really good, and they are also good for you! High fibre, low fat, low in refined sugar (brown rice syrup does not spike blood sugar). They are definitely fudgey brownies, rather than cakey ones. A totally guilt-free pleasure, which, although not as rich as the sinful brownies from last week, will totally satisfy.

(Apologies for the bad picture, I am currently relying on my iPhone as the DSLR is broken).

Black bean espresso brownies

  • 1 can of black beans, preferably of the kind with no salt added, rinsed very well
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (melted/liquid)
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup (or other sweetener)
  • one shot of freshly made espresso, or strong coffee
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tbsp coconut flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar, if the banana wasn’t ripe and sweet or if you think the batter needs more sweetness (taste to check)
  • some chopped dark chocolate

Mash the beans and the banana thoroughly, either with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Mix in syrup, espresso and oil.

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients (cocoa, coconut flour, baking powder). Sift them into the bean mix to avoid lumps, as both cocoa and coconut flour tend to clump. Mix it all in, and then fold in chocolate.

Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes. Cool well before slicing – they are pretty mushy when hot, and you will make a mess if you don’t wait.

Edit 16 Nov 2011: I’ve been making variations of this recipe quite a bit – they are just SO GOOD! And I finally remembered to take a picture too. Not great – it was dark outside and it’s tough in low lighting, but at least it’s better than the above! This is just out of the oven. No espresso, but a bit of orange juice instead. Sweetened with 1/3 cup agave, no extra sugar. Excellent Valrhona chocolate sprinkled over top.

Coconut lúcuma “panna cotta” for two.

Two things have been on my mind lately. One, I feel sluggish and unhealthy after a hot summer of eating out too often. The kitchen has been so unappealing in 30+ degrees and I have eaten way too much junk. I want to make some changes to my diet once I get to Norway, which shouldn’t be so difficult as it is much more expensive to eat out, with less choice as to world cuisines.

But, here is the downside, I am about to move away from Toronto and my beloved Qi Natural Foods and Essence of Life. Health food stores in Norway charge truly exorbitant prices, so I have been looking into online shopping (many Norwegian raw foodists and such seem to swear by iherb.com). It’s almost absurd how much one can save, even factoring in shipping halfway across the world. Ordering from California seems a bit problematic to me, given that it must have a bit of a carbon footprint, so I’ve been looking for some UK based alternatives. I just placed an order from Raw Living, will report back.

All this browsing around online health food got me reading up on various “super foods”. I eat chia seeds and coconut oil, but otherwise I have not forayed much into this stuff. It often seems too expensive and somewhat faddish. We should be able to get all necessary nutrients from a normal diet anyway! But I did get curious about certain items. I am definitely going to try maca, which a lot of people recommend for extra energy. And I got very interested when I discovered that lúcuma, which I have seen sold as a powder in Qi Natural Foods, turned out to be made from a fruit closely related to the Salvadoran mamey. We ate ice cream and such made from this fruit in El Salvador, and it is really yummy. So I decided I had to get my hand on some to experiment with in recipes.

It seems to me a bit of an exaggeration to call lúcuma a super food. It has some fibre and some beta carotene, but as I saw someone remark online, so do carrots! However, it’s neat as flavoring and as a gentle sweetener – lúcuma powder is naturally sweet. The flavor is vaguely caramel-y, I think. Hard to describe.

For my first attempt, I made a simple riff on a panna cotta, but using agar agar (vegan, easy to work with) and coconut milk. As both the coconut and the lúcuma are naturally sweet, there is no need to add extra sweetener.

Coconut lúcuma “panna cotta” for two

  • 150 ml low-fat coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp lúcuma powder, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp agar agar powder

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan (it might be a good idea to sift in the lúcuma to prevent lumps). Stir constantly as you heat the mixture to break up any lumps. Boil for about 2-3 minutes to activate the agar agar. Pour into two small espresso cups and chill before serving. Voilà!

Sinful brownies.

I have had this terrible craving for brownies lately. And I am out of many of the ingredients for my killer vegan coconut brownies. And I am feeling sinful. I have been eating some foods lately with smaller amounts of egg with no particular ill effect, so I figured I could push it a little. The photo is soso, given that we had a camera accident yesterday with the DSLR – there seems to be a spring out of place in the lens and it needs a trip to an expert. Instragram it is..

The recipe is an adaptation of Fanny’s brownies from her old blog Foodbeam (which is also found on Smitten Kitchen, where the measurements are not by weight). Fanny, who now blogs here, is a French pastry chef, and in addition to using lots of ingredients we can’t have in this house, she obviously has better technique than me.. But these are pretty simple. I can’t remember ever putting so much sugar and butter in ANYTHING. They are really incredibly sweet. But very tasty and satisfying in small portions! Even husband dearest only had 1.5 square, and he is usually unstoppable.

The fact of the high proportion of butter, sugar and cocoa made for a fairly easy gluten-free adaptation since you don’t have to change much. I substituted the 65g of flour with 13 g of Orgran’s Gluten-free Gluten, which I had sitting around but hadn’t used much, and 52g of sweet rice flour. (The “Gluten-free Gluten” should replace 20%, ie 1/5 of the flour, hence the strange  numbers).

The recipe itself is fairly simple, but it does take a lot of stirring. It took longer than I expected for the butter/sugar/cocoa mixture to look the way it was supposed to, and I think I was too impatient and didn’t stir it for long enough over the bain-marie. My back/arm wasn’t too happy about the motion, so I gave up. In the finished brownie, there were still sugar crystals, which I think would have otherwise dissolved.

So I won’t make these kinds of things a habit, for all sorts of health-related reasons. But 10 days before moving across the ocean it didn’t quite make sense to buy a new jar of coconut oil and all when I had all I needed for these.. And they ARE delicious!

Sinful gluten-free cocoa brownies

  • 140g butter (I only had salted butter so I did not add extra salt)
  • 280g sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder (I used Cocoa Camino brand)
  • 52 g Mochiko Sweet Rice flour
  • 13 g Orgran Gluten-free Gluten (GfG)

In a small bowl, mix the sweet rice flour and GfG. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 160C. Line square baking pan with parchment/baking paper.

Measure out the butter, cocoa and sugar (I just put the bowl on an electric scale ad tare after each ingredient, but you probably figured that out yourself).

Place over a simmering bain-marie and stir. It will take some time for the butter to melt and the ingredients to combine properly. Fanny says you should continue until it reaches about 50-60C (ie it feels hot to touch).

Set aside and cool a little.

Add the eggs one by one, whisking for approx 1 minute after each (I struggled with this after the first one, so I whisked extra after the second).

Fold in flour mix.

Bake for 20 mins. Cool before slicing.

Gluten-free pear chocolate muffins (redux)

I’ve made pear chocolate muffins before, but here is a different and somewhat healthier version with less fat and sugar. It is mainly sweetened with fruit.

  • 3/4 cup teff flour
  • 1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp psyllium husk (optional, for fibre)
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour (optional, for fibre)
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (you should be fine skipping this too)
  • 1 small pear, chopped
  • 40g of 70% chocolate, chopped
  • 300 ml pear juice/nectar
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp coconut or other vegetable oil (the coconut oil must be melted)
  • 2 tbsp brown rice syrup

Mix all the dry ingredients well and mix in chopped pear and chocolate.

In a blender, mix all the wet ingredients well, including the banana.

Add wet to dry and combine.

Bake for 22-25 minutes at 350F.