2009 – Best year ever?

I’m beginning to think that perhaps 2009 has been the best year of my life, so far.  Sure, I had some setbacks and disappointments (Liberia, being broke, health issues), but overall, it’s been amazing.  I just found out that I’ve won the Victoria University PhD Scholarship to study under my mentors Drs. Goman & Dorner!  It’s a bit intimidating to think I’ll be back in school, as a doctoral student, and soon to be DR. Nicole !  But I’m so excited so be spending 3 years in New Zealand working on something I find so interesting, it’s unbelievable!  This scholarship includes tuition and fees, plus $21,000 a year!!!  HOLY SH*T! I’m to start March 1st in Wellington, so I’ll be picking up and heading out of town around the end of February, with a brief stopover in Chicago to see my momma and get some bussiness taken care of…

So, in addition to this wonderful news, as I’m reminiscing upon the last year, all I can feel is happiness and gratefulness for all these blessings I’ve had.  Not only do I have the coolest job in the world, which, sadly, I will be leaving in 2 months, I also have a totally awesome boyfriend, and everyone I know is healthy and happy.  Yes, I’m poor, but I’m happy!

I spent a lot of the past few weeks doing embroidery, and a few other arts & crafts activities.  All of my family got embroidered hankies – they’re better for the environment than using kleenex and softer! I made a few necklaces, using a necklace I bought in Cambodia as a model, and some decorated agendas for 2010 using the inside of envelopes to make a collage.  I felt pretty productive!  I also did quite a bit of baking and cooking… in addition to those recipes I mentioned before, I’ve been pumping out the cookies, apple pie, and cranberry bread.  Christmas I spent at Ticker’s, where we roasted a Chicken, made some totally awesome amazing stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, and roasted squash. In order to work off all that stuffing, chicken, mashed potatoes, and cookies, we took a long walk up Mont Royal on Christmas day – a snowy hike that burned a few calories.  I’m still feeling bloated – so it’s diet time in 2010, but well worth the indulgences of the holiday season!

So, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!  Good luck for 2010!

bad blogger

Yes!  I know it’s been ages since I wrote anything here.  I’m getting into the routine of my job and life, and haven’t been up to much blog-worthy exciting stuff.  One of my main focuses lately has been cooking and baking.

A recent big success was a Moroccan “Harira”, or chick-pea soup that I made.  It got rave reviews and recipe requests from several people.  Here is the recipe, that I modified from epicurious.com:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 8 cups water + 2 chicken or vegetable bullion cubes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, plus a few fresh ones
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small celery rib (including leaves), finely chopped (if you have one..)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tsp teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup lentils ( I like brown or green, but red work too!)
  • 1/2 cup grain or starch of your choice (quinoa is great!  orzo, barley, cous cous, bulgar, white or brown rice are all also acceptable)
  • Chopped vegetables per your liking (zucchini, carrot, etc. – I wouldn’t use potato or any starchy vegetable; the chick peas, lentils, and quinoa are more than enough)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Prepare chickpeas:
Soak chickpeas in water to cover by 2 inches 8 to 12 hours with 1 bullion cube, or quick soak (bring to a boil, turn off, let sit 1 hour)

Drain chickpeas and rinse well. Transfer to a large saucepan and add 8 cups water + 1 bullion cube. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Coarsely purée tomatoes in a food processor.

Cook onion and celery in butter in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add turmeric, pepper, chili and cinnamon and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. (I think I also threw in a few cumin seeds at this point.  Coriander seeds would be good too!)  feel free to modify how much spice you use based on your liking.  The most spices, the better flavour.

Stir in tomato purée, 1/3 cup cilantro, chickpeas and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Stir in quinoa and optional vegetables and cook, stirring occasional, until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in parsley, remaining 1/3 cup cilantro, and salt to taste.

Enjoy with my cous cous salad –

  • 1 cup dry cous cous, cooked with 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup stock
  • mixed veggies (zucchini, broccoli, onion, carrot, green & red pepper sauteed in olive oil & garlic or grilled; diced tomato & cucumber, chopped olives.  Be careful not to overcook your veggies, keep them crispy!)
  • lemon juice
  • chili flakes
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh mint, chopped
  • fresh or dried parsley
Mix it all together… eat it hot or cold!  Great lunch to bring to work.
Alana invited me over for dinner last week, and casually mentioned “I did make some bread today…”.  Her secret – Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day!
I can’t afford to buy the book, but I found a recipe online.  It’s not the same as what Alana served me (yummy whole wheat & rye !) but turned out better than any bread I’ve ever tried baking before!

Artisan Bread (in Five Minutes)

So this recipe has been floating around for a long time, gracing the blogs and the tables of many a foodie. Personally, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, what is the point of making bread if you aren’t going to knead it, fuss over it, watch it rise, punch it around… Making homemade bread is about technique, timing, and experience. Naturally, it comes with some bragging rights. But this bread changes everything. Anyone who can use a wooden spoon can make it. It’s simplicity makes it such that absolutely everyone has the ability to make gorgeous loaves of crusty outered, tender innard-ed bread.

To make the dough, you mix everything in a bowl. That’s it. The initial rise takes two or more hours. But this rise doesn’t need to be babysat, as you let it grow until it collapses in on itself. Then you take the resulting gloriously yeasty, puffy pile of dough, stick it in a tub, pop it in the fridge, and saw off a hunk whenever you have a hankering for fresh, warm bread. Nothing to it.

The longer the bread stays in your fridge (up to about two weeks), the more flavourful it becomes and the larger the air holes will be. Others have said that it improves greatly by keeping it in the fridge for just 24 hours, and that the longer it is in there, the better it will be. I personally thought it was scrumptious the very first day, and with my patience deficiency, there was no way in heck it was going to last more than a few days.

The “five minutes a day” thing really only refers to the active time once the dough is prepared (i.e. cutting off a chunk, flouring it, and slashing it). It takes a bit more than five to mix up the initial batch – maybe five-and-a-half, six minutes? Then on the day you bake it, it needs to rest for at least 40 minutes once it is shaped. Plus about a half-hour in the oven. But no time will be spent grunting and fretting as you might do when making bread the traditional way…. which you may never do again, once you try making it this way!

Artisan Bread

Adapted from ”Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough (*you can replace about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of white flour with any whole grain flour with great results).
  • Cornmeal
  • 1. In a large bowl, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups warm water. Add flour, and stir to combine completely. Let dough rise in a warm place for at least two hours, until it rises and collapses (up to 5 hours – or even overnight won’t hurt it). The dough may be baked at this point, or refrigerated for later use.

    2. Cover dough, but make sure it is not airtight – gases need to escape – and place in fridge. When you are ready to use it, throw a small fistful of flour on the surface and use a serrated knife to cut off a piece of the size you desire. (The authors recommend a 1 pound loaf – which means cutting off grapefruit-sized piece of dough). Turning the dough in your hands, stretch the surface of the dough and tuck in under. The surface will be smooth, and the bottom with be bunched.

    3. Dust a pizza peel (or any flat surface – I use a rimless cookie sheet) with cornmeal. (This prevents sticking, and adds a nice, rustic crunch. You can use flour instead, but you’ll need to use a very generous dusting). Allow dough to rest in a warm place for 40 minutes – longer (up to an hour and a half) if you use some whole wheat flour in place of the white, or if you make a larger loaf.

    4. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with baking stone (or overturned baking sheet) inside on the middle rack, plus a shallow pan on the top rack. Throw a small fistful of flour over the dough, slash it 2-4 times with a serrated knife (in a cross, a tic-tac-toe, or a fan), and slide it into the oven, onto the baking stone. Throw 1-2 cups of tap water into the shallow pan, and quickly shut the oven door to trap steam inside. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is well browned and bread sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom.

    (Stolen from http://www.foodess.com/2009/03/artisan-bread-in-five-minutes/)

I’m happy to post recipes and other cooking info in this holiday feeding-frenzy period.  If I happen to do anything noteworthy or exciting, I’ll also post about that.