Kale and Ricotta Spinach Puff Pastries

A pale green plate with 2 Kale and Ricotta Spinach Puff Pastries resting on top of 3 kale leaves.

These delightful little puff pastries look impressive but couldn’t be simpler to make thanks to the wonders of frozen chopped kale and pre-rolled puff pastry sheets. I like to make these whenever an appetizer emergency strikes as I usually have all the ingredients handy (and by appetizer emergency I mean when I realize halfway through a glass of wine that I haven’t eaten all day). I’ve used feta, Boursin, and fresh goat cheese in place of the ricotta, but there’s something about the delicate pillowy texture ricotta that I feel is perfectly copacetic with the rest of the ingredients. Take the puff pastry out of the freezer at the same time as the kale and forget about them for a half or so until they’re both defrosted. If you can’t find frozen chopped kale feel free to use spinach instead (or any other green you can find in the freezer section). I should add that these make excellent cold or reheated leftovers, just brush them with some melted butter and heat in a warm oven for 5-6 minutes.

kale and ricotta spinach puff pastry:

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge or at room temperature

About 250 grams of frozen kale, thawed and squeezed out of all excess moisture

1 clove of minced garlic

1 shallot, finely diced

2/3 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 eggs

A couple of gratings of fresh nutmeg, or a pinch of dried

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix together the thawed and thoroughly drained kale, garlic, shallots, ricotta, salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, and one egg until totally combined. Set aside.
  3. Unroll the puff pastry onto a baking sheet, using the attached parchment paper as a base. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter slice the puff pastry into 9 squares.
  4. Using two spoons evenly distribute the kale mixture into the centre of each square, you might not need the entire mixture (in which case, extras can be used as the base for a super tasty quiche).
  5. Carefully fold the corners of each puff pastry square into the centre and pinch together, it’s okay if you need to stretch the dough a bit to get the corners to stay together.
  6. Whisk the remaining egg and brush onto the puff pastries with a pastry brush. Bake for 25 minutes or until the puff pastries are nicely and lightly browned. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

And just because I saw Slowdive AKA my favourite band of all time just a few weeks ago (although it feels like a million years ago now) I’ve been listening to their latest album with the frequency of a fan obsessed. I think this song is so beautiful, I’m so happy I got to see them play it live. Just some very lovely shimmery shoegaze for a rainy afternoon.

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill

Pineapple and Carrot Muffins

Pineapple and carrot muffins (2)

These pineapple and carrot muffins are simple little muffins that aren’t meant to display any degree of baking showmanship. Rather, their purpose is to invoke feelings of comfort and nostalgia without any fuss or complication. This is the recipe at its most basic; feel free to add shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, walnut pieces, currants, whole dried cherries or blueberries, finely diced dried apricots or pineapple, grated apple, etc., etc.. However I end up making them I always end up individually wrapping and then freezing at least half of the recipe, this way I can take them out the night before and toast them for breakfast with honey and Earl Grey tea.

pineapple and carrot muffins:

2 large carrots, peeled and grated

2/3 cup of crushed pineapple

1 cup of all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2 cup of whole wheat flour

1 cup of sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup of vegetable oil

1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

2. Stir the flours, sugar, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together in  large bowl until thoroughly combined.

3. In a separate bowl combine the remaining ingredients. Mix the the dry ingredients in with the wet ingredients very gently, try not to overmix the batter.

4. Spoon the muffin batter into a greased or paper lined muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes until they appear golden brown and the tops have risen. Let sit for at least half an hour before serving plain or with honey.

I’ve been in a little musical bubble lately, speaking of nostalgia, made up of music I listened to in high school when I was 16 and 17. I remember listening to this song on the bus a lot, trying not to crash my Sony discman around too much as I shuffled to let more people on. I didn’t listen to very much Modest Mouse past The Moon and Antarctica and not at all until recently, but I did listen to this song on repeat for several months during long periods of teenage introverted awkwardness.

Modest Mouse – Dramamine

Blueberry and Lemon Yogurt Muffins

If I had to choose between a lifetime of cooking or a lifetime of baking I would without hesitation reply that my fate was to cook always from there on in. My baking repertoire therefore consists of items that don’t require very much patience and that almost always without fail, despite my lack of precision upon execution, come out perfectly each time I make them,. These blueberry and lemon yogurt muffins fall neatly into each of these categories – the lemon Greek yogurt ensures a dense, cake-like crumb (very appropriately as these are good muffins to have for dessert or with Earl Grey tea.) I am now blissfully surrounded by local blueberries that are deep navy blue and somehow sweetly tart when you bite into them – the brief sojourn in the oven intensifies the sweetness and makes them taste like a blueberry preserve. I like these hot out of the oven with some good salted butter or at room temperature with a cup of the aforementioned Earl Grey tea with lemon.

blueberry and lemon yogurt muffins:

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup of lemon flavoured Greek yogurt

1/3 cup of canola oil

The zest and juice of 1 large lemon

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/2 cup of white granulated sugar

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line or butter a 12-cup muffin tin.

2. Combine the lightly beaten egg, yogurt, oil and lemon juice and zest in a large bowl and whisk until mixture is glossy and smooth. In a separate bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder/soda and salt with a fork until completely mixed.

3. Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients and stir in the blueberries. Very gently and with as few strokes as possible combine all the ingredients until the batter reaches a slightly undermixed yet cohesive whole.

4. Using 2 spoons drop the muffin batter into the muffin cups, there should be enough for each cup to receive a large scoop of the mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a fork comes out clean when inserted into the centre of a muffin.

Happy twee summer music at its best; I started loving this album in grade 11 and I have loved it ever since. For each season I tend to justify a reason to listen to this album over and over again but I really do think it’s most appropriate for an August Sunday afternoon spent baking muffins and drinking iced black coffees.

Belle and Sebastian – Ease Your Feet in the Sea

Chocolate Raspberry and Blackberry Pavlova

(Taken by Ian Linkletter)

Springtime in Vancouver is like a technicolour LSD freak-out kaleidoscope on hyperspeed; that simile might seem hyperbolic but I’m surrounded by cherry trees in perpetual bloom, magenta and tea rose pink lining the sky and the street all over Kitsilano. The grass is neon electrica green because of the constant rain and the tropical plants are opening into alien shapes both tiny and grandiose. My balcony drapes have been thrown open to meet the longer stretches of daylight and the smell of outdoors is headily sweet with growing things.

In short, this beautiful landscape has influenced my cooking and baking choices quite drastically (there’s something about stunning colour imagery everywhere that makes me crave bright fruits and vegetables.) The other weekend we were fortunate enough to have guests from Seattle up for a couple of days; one of the absolute best parts being that one of our guests, Kirsten, also enjoys being in the kitchen and listening to music while cooking and chatting. Together we made this unbelievably gorgeous chocolate pavlova with raspberries and blackberries and it truly was a team effort of beating the eggs and cream because I have no electric mixer, just a trusty whisk and arm power and the egg whites and sugar mixture can get quite heavy towards the end (not to mention adding in the sugar 1 Tbsp. at a time.) My mum has been making pavlovas for as long as I can remember, they’re so easy but immensely impressive. You can omit the chocolate aspect and just add a small amount of vanilla or vanilla sugar and there really is no limit as to what you can do with the fruit. I made another one this weekend (again with the help of a friend) and with the leftovers I made a sort of pavlova ice cream sundae by layering vanilla ice cream and smushed up (Eton mess style) pavlova and some more grated chocolate. This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer cookbook.

chocolate raspberry and blackberry pavlova:

6 egg whites, allow to come to room temperature before attempting this recipe

1 cup of white sugar

1/3 cup of cocoa powder, sifted

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

3/4 of a 125g plain semi-sweet chocolate bar, reserve the rest of the chocolate for grating on top of the pavlova

2 cups of whipping cream, extra chilled

1 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbsp. white sugar

1/2 pint each of raspberries and blackberries, washed well and left to air dry

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using either a sharp kitchen knife or mallet chop or bash the chocolate bar (except the reserved 1/4) into very small pieces. Set aside.

2. Using either sheer arm power and a whisk or an electric mixer, taking care that there is absolutely no trace of residual oils or fats on the bowl that you are using, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

3. Add the sugar to the beaten egg whites 1 Tbsp. at a time while continually whisking/beating until all of the sugar has been incorporated and the mixture has formed a thick marshmallowy consistency. Fold in the cocoa, vinegar and chocolate pieces.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the meringue into a circle using a spatula over top of the paper. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour (check to see if it might need a few extra minutes at the end, it should look cracked and crisp on the outside.)

5. Allow the meringue to cool to room temperature. In the meantime, beat the cream, vanilla and sugar together until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the meringue base. Arrange the berries in a haphazard sort of way on top of the pillowy cream and using a rasp grater dust the entire dessert with chocolate shavings. Serve on a cake stand or right off of the parchment with gin and tonics or vodka lemonades.

(Taken by Ian Linkletter)

I think that overall our weekend was musically copacetic, all of us suggested songs and contributions to the play list with ease and grace. In my mind The Brian Jonestown Massacre will forever be confused with The Dandy Warhols, swirly sort of stoner music that is both dramatic and derivative of psychedelia and shoegaze. I think this song is catchy, lush and layered (the lushness matching the heavy layers of greenery right outside.)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Prozac vs. Heroin

Very Vegetable Pizza

I don’t know about you, but I often find the vegetable quality (and quantity) on delivery pizzas somewhat lacking. Nothing seems to be very fresh and what does look fresh often tastes bland and becomes lost in the cheese and the sauce. By cooking the vegetables first, I have sautéed them here but roasting would also be delicious, the flavours of even not-in-season vegetables seem to awaken and hold their own against the rest of the pizza. You could use any vegetables here, I picked the ones that looked most vibrant at the grocery store this afternoon. Baking your own pizza dough is incredibly easy as it doesn’t require very much kneading nor a very intense rising period. At most, your dough will double in size so you don’t have to worry about it reaching astronomical yeast-fuelled heights in order for it to work. Lastly, I find that a mixture of regular pizza mozzarella and small balls of bocconcini successfully produce that oozing, elastic textural sensation that one covets in delivery pizza.

VERY VEGETABLE PIZZA:

for the pizza dough:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/4 cup of cornmeal

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup of warm water

1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

1/2 tsp. white sugar

1 Tbsp. olive oil + more for coating the dough

1. Proof your yeast by pouring the warm water over the yeast and sugar and allowing to sit for ten minutes. By this time the liquid should be foamy with a fairly strong yeasty smell.

2. In the meantime, combine the remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl. When the yeast, water, and sugar are ready add them to the bowl with the oil and stir until a sturdy dough is formed. Using your hands knead the dough until elastic and smooth, about ten good kneads.

3. Coat the dough in a small amount of oil and place in a bowl in a warm place for an hour to let rise. As I’ve written before, I like to allow my oven to reach 200 degrees and then I’ll turn it off and let the dough rise in the still-warm oven.

4. When the dough has roughly doubled in size punch it down and give it a few quick kneads. Roll it out to about a 1/2 an inch in thickness directly onto a baking sheet and allow to rest while you prepare your pizza toppings.

for the pizza toppings:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 of a large red onion, sliced into thin rings

1 red pepper, cut into strips

1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into thin moons

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 tsp. hot chili pepper flakes

1 tsp. dried oregano

2 Tbsp. fresh basil

Kosher salt, to taste

1/2 cup of basic tomato sauce

1/2 cup of cubed mozzarella

1 cup of mini bocconcini balls

Parsley, as a garnish if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for ten minutes until softened. Add the oregano, chili flakes and the salt to taste.

2. Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza dough, sprinkle the cooked vegetables on the top evenly, and then distribute the cheeses over the entire surface.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, checking to make sure that the cheese doesn’t brown too much. Once out of the oven, let the pizza sit for a few moments before slicing into pieces, garnishing with minced parsley if you’d like.

Ah yes, sometimes nothing but gloriously slow Chet Baker will do when you’re making a pizza. Maybe it’s the methodical chopping and the visceral feeling of the dough between your fingers, I’m not really sure, but there is something sensual about working with your hands. Chet Baker may have had his faults as an individual and even as a musician, he lost his teeth due to drug use and couldn’t play the trumpet for a period of time, but his music is so haunting to listen to. When I listen to Chet Baker I slow down and pay attention to the task in front of me. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, and that is written without any hint of hyperbole.

Chet Baker – Almost Blue

Roasted Red Pepper Cornmeal Focaccia

If bread baking is an activity you feel uncomfortable tackling, or if you have had failed attempts in your past, I strongly encourage you to reconsider your position by baking focaccia. It is so easy and it tastes so much better than anything you can buy at the store, even focaccia from specialized bakeries doesn’t compare. Once you master a basic recipe the possibilities are seemingly endless, you can add to the dough and experiment with the toppings until you have found your own perfect combination. This particular combination is my idea of perfection in bread form. I love cornmeal in anything but especially in focaccia, it gives a certain heft to the bread that I find lacking sometimes in other recipes. I used marinated roasted red peppers from a jar because I didn’t have any fresh peppers to char in the oven by hand. I have also used fresh basil instead of rosemary, in fact I actually prefer it, but I didn’t have any in stock (see? this is why focaccia is so great – you can improvise!) Today was a typical rainy January day in Vancouver and rainy days are the absolute best times to tinker around the kitchen and listen to something quiet and pretty. I served this focaccia with a French-style lentil soup (I will post the recipe tomorrow.)

roasted red pepper cornmeal focaccia:

2 tsp. quick rise yeast

1 cup of warm water

2 Tbsp. sugar

3 1/4 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 cup of cornmeal

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 cup of olive oil

Roasted red peppers, cut into slivers (either homemade or marinated from a jar)

1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped roughly

Kosher salt (to taste)

1/4 tsp. of red chili flakes

1. Proof the yeast with the warm water and sugar for 10 minutes, when doing this step I avoid stirring and just let the yeast do its thing. Another useful tip is to pre-warm the bowl you are proofing the yeast in by filling it up with hot water and letting it sit for a minute before emptying it and refilling with the warm water. The mixture should be foamy by the time it’s ready to use.

2. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and sugar mixture and the olive oil to the bowl and mix until a dough starts to form. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, this will take about ten full kneads.

3. Put the kneaded dough in a clean bowl and coat lightly with olive oil so that it won’t stick once it has expanded. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free area for an hour or until it has doubled in size. I like to allow my oven to reach 200 degrees and then turn it off and put the dough inside to rise; you can also put it on top of your fridge with a dish towel to cover.

4. Take the dough out of the oven if that’s where it has been rising and set the oven to 400 degrees. Punch the dough down and give it a few quick kneads. Working directly on a baking tray roll or stretch out the dough until it is about 1/2 an inch thick. Allow to rest for twenty minutes.

5. Arrange the roasted red peppers and rosemary on top of the focaccia and distribute the salt and chili flakes. Bake for 2o minutes and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into triangular pieces.

If you live in a rainy climate then Low is your friend. They are known for their sparse musical composition and almost eerily perfect harmonizations and lyrics. Secret Name is my favourite album and demonstrates the subtlety of their song-writing beautifully. If you are having a dark day, maybe just outside or maybe as a mood, then listen to this album and slowly warm up from the inside.

Low – Immune