Monday, 27 February 2012

SmartCooks Rates Kai Yang an Excellent Thai BBQ Chicken

February 2012 

SmartCooks here.  

It snowed a LOT on Friday.  15 cm? Enough to lead to dreams of warmer vacations and taking in new sights, sounds and smells.  So I travelled the internet and came across 'Kai Yang' or 'Kai Yaang' BBQ chicken.  It's extremely popular in Thailand; in fact, it is referred to 'peasant' or street food.  

So, I'm neither in Bangkok nor all that keen on street food BUT the BBQ version looked intriguing and good.  Only problem was digging out the BBQ from the foot of snow on the hood -- gave that up in favour of the indoor Cuisinart grill.  Worked like a charm ... 

Kai Yang is one of those recipes that depend on the cook or the region.  Recipes can range from elaborate to basic.  I chose one that seems to fall in-between, and which corresponded to what I had on hand.  

I made a few modifications, in keeping with my style.  I used boneless, skinless, organic chicken breasts.  

Most importantly, it is important to experiment with the seasoning.  The recipe  called for 6-8 thai bird chilies, minced.  That's HOT!  I put in one, taste tested, two, tested again and quit at three chilies.  Husband and I both agreed we wouldn't have wanted it any hotter.  

I used a combo of lemongrass stalks and already minced lemongrass and ground them and the garlic in my Cuisinart small food processor.  i used a whole 1/2 cup of lemongrass as I adore it.  Again, it depends on taste.  

The chicken can be roasted alone or on skewers.  

To serve Kai Yang, some recipes suggest a sweet chili dipping sauce, while others call for sticky rice.  I made it with steamed bok choy for me and home-made fries for Husband.  

It was yummmm... Chased away the winter blues as we settled in to watch Lost in Translation.  Eek, and now it's snowing heavily again.  Sigh.  Barbecue? Chicken anyone? 

Kai Yang (Thai grilled chicken)


1 lb chicken (breasts, legs, thighs, or drumsticks, depending on taste). 
2 (or more, depending on taste) minced garlic cloves
1 T ground white pepper
1/4-1/2 cup minced lemongrass
3 Thai bird chilies, minced (can do more or less depending on preference)
1 T light soy sauce
2 T fish sauce (for vegetarian version, use more soy sauce) 
1 T vegetarian oyster sauce
1 T Chinese black vinegar 
1 T turbinado (or light brown) sugar
Large bunch of cilantro, chopped
Skewers, if desired 

Place chicken in a bowl. Add all the marinade ingredients and mix well.  Marinade for at least four hours or overnight.

Use the BBQ or an indoor grill.  Grill the chicken for 10-15 minutes, turning often, until a nice color develops.  Move to side for indirect grilling for another 20 minutes or so.  

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Aside #23: Hunger Pangs Thanks to the Hunger Games Trilogy

February 2012

It's been a long time since I've stayed up all night so riveted by a book or series that I couldn't sleep. 

But this past weekend it was the trilogy called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I could not tear myself away from the pages of the books so, naturally, finished all three in one weekend.  The first movie is set to launch in March and I will definitely be among the first in line.

The trilogy works on many levels.  Ostensibly labelled a young adult book (so not), it is set in a future where the 'Capitol' selects a boy and girl from the 12 'Districts' to fight to the death on live television.  It has a strong underlying message of sustainability -- food in particular.  The heroine  -- Katniss Everdeen -- volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the deadly Games. Katniss's ensuing struggles against 'Government Control' and her battles for personal independence and survival are epic.   

As I closed the last page of the trilogy with a satisfied sigh, I realized my appetite for reading books is rising strong once again....   

Books to Appease the Hunger 

I've been seriously deprived of books and reading over the past number of years.  My world has revolved narrowly around media stories, twitter alerts, and fast response.  I was mostly too distracted to read, barely able to concentrate on a briefing note or TV program, let alone a book.

The only exception I can recall is the Millennium series and following the story of the indomitable Lisbeth Salander.  I recall racing through the first two books in the trilogy at warp speed in all-night reading marathons.  

When a friend called to say that a mutual friend had picked up the long-awaited third book at an airport overseas (it was not yet available here), I was so eager to read it that I went to over to wait while J finished the last 20 pages. 

I said a hasty goodbye, tucked it carefully under my arm, and scuttled home for a dedicated reading session, all the while regretting the early death of Stieg Larsson and the other 7 books that never will never be read.    

Insatiable Appetite for Books to Satisfy Body and Soul

I had also completely forgotten how completely satisfying it is to become engrossed in a book.  There's nothing like it.  I compare reading a good book to the adrenaline high I get from a hard, beat-stomping workout that puts me 100 feet up on the ceiling with energy.  

I've always been book-crazed.  As a young pre-schooler I can still remember the first time I picked up Green Eggs and Ham and was immediately hungry for words, more worlds, more glimpses of life beyond my own.  My appetite grew exponentially over time.   

Children's authors occupied hundreds of reading-time hours, with each Newberry Award winner (like The Giver trilogy by Lois Lowry with the struggle over 'Community' and 'Sameness' or A Wrinkle in Time by Mdeleine L'Engle and the battle with 'Central Intelligence'.  All convinced me that the Kingdom of Childhood Reading was a great place to stay.  

My ability to lose myself in book-land was legendary.  I read out the children's sections of the mobile library, the shopping mall library and got caught many times perusing adult books.  It was the same story with the dinky grade school school library, presided over by the Principal, a nun who steered me toward books of religious devotion in hopes that I would answer the call of the Church. 

Alas, I never saw any devotional light except the flashlight I used in bed at night to read under the covers.  No amount of morning fatigue and grouchiness could dissuade me from this.  My father used to sneak up the stairs to try and surprise me in mid-sentence.  He didn't realize there was a telltale squeak on at least one of the steps, allowing me enough time to quickly throw the flashlight and book into the open cupboard door where clothes littered the floor to muffle the sound.  My aim was flawless.  

In school, I perfected the art of reading the latest must-read book like The Narnia Chronicles at my desk by cracking open the desk lid with a ruler or by hiding the book in my lap partially covered with a scarf or sweater.  Maybe more of a comment on the education system but I was only caught sometimes and had the book confiscated; mostly I was able to read in solitude. 

High school libraries opened up new reading material and my reading life continued undeterred..Books were easily hidden in textbooks and in various spots around the house in attempts to hookwink my mother from finding out how many books I had checked out of the library.  

Any wonder I wasn't a straight 'A' student... I applied myself to words and not school work.   

As a young adult in university in Ottawa, I developed a Saturday bookstore circuit, from the House of Speculative Fiction on 4th Avenue, the Prime Crime Nook on Bank, the Women's Bookstore on Elgin, Octopus Books in the Glebe, the Children's Bookstore on Sussex in the Market, the university bookstores and the used bookstores in centre town.  

Later in life, I'd disappear into the soft chairs at Chapters with stacks of possible purchases propped up around me.  I eagerly lined up at midnight with hundreds of young folks to buy the latest Harry Potter offering and then would rush home to read all night.  

Happily, I've been known to 'vacation' by lugging a 30-lb book bag to the beach and hunkering down for hours behind hats, sunglasses, sunblock, beach umbrellas, blankets etc and the like.  I could have been anywhere.  When Husband and I travelled in the U.S., we'd ship home boxes of books via FedEx when we could no longer continue to carry our various book purchases. 

Books That Changed My Life

More importantly, at various points in my life, books have been instrumental in expanding my world vision.  On more than one occasion growing up and as an adult, I'd have to stop reading, put down a book, and pace, giving me time to reflect on what I was reading.  Some of these books shaped who I am today.

On one memorable occasion in my early 20s, I remember being in hospital for the third time in three years for some pretty serious surgery.  I was not having the happiest of experiences dealing with surgeons and trying to ask questions and get answers I understood. 

Fortunately, it was the era of Our Bodies, Ourselves, published 40 years ago by the Boston Women's Health Collective, and which offered the revolutionary idea that women should know -- and make our own decisions -- about our bodies, sexuality and health.  

I'd found it (and half a dozen others in the same vein) at the Toronto Women's Bookstore on my way to London, Ontario, for the latest surgery and I was reading it from my hospital bed.  

The young male interns who happened to rifle through the books while standing at my bedside were visibly taken aback.  I just didn't fit the picture of a feminist revolutionary I guess.  But the books offered enough insights to give me some semblance of control over my health.  

May Sarton is one author who has had a defining influence on my life and way of thinking.  I searched bookstores in Ottawa, Toronto, New York and San Francisco for her books and have everything she wrote from her earliest writings ... books, journals and even some poetry.  Her books remain among the few hardcover book collections I have kept intact despite my commitment to e-books and decluttering.   

Funny I would like an author like May Sarton who led a mostly solitary life and wrote a lot about relationships and spirituality.   I tend to shun such books.  But something about her writing and the fact that she she felt compelled to write using a tape recorder when dying of breast cancer in 1995 speaks to me.  

The feminist writers like Valerie Miner and other women writing for The Feminist Press were also instrumental in shaping my views on life.  Not as well known as Marilyn French (The Women's Room), I nonetheless devoured hundreds of books in that era.  

People will often ask me for my favourite author or genre of literature.  It's impossible to answer this other than ... "it depends..." Crime fiction written by women or with women as a strong central character remains a favourite.  I have only one rule.  When I find an author I like, I have to start at the first book and then read forward in chronological order.  I find it the best way to follow the maturing of both the author and the characters in a book.  

Read, Read, Read

So, the hunger for reading remains strong. It may disappear from time to time (witness the last few years) but it always roars back to ensnare me when a good book and/or series arrives.   The iPad app and the various Kindle, Kobo, iBooks apps expand the world of possibilities.  1-click and a world downloads! 



Friday, 17 February 2012

SmartCooks and the Mighty Jars of Salad Goodness

February 2012

SmartCooks here. 

Lunches in a Mighty Jar of Salad Goodness.  Multi-layered, colourful, one jar, quick, healthy, and pleasing to both the eye and palate.

The inspiration for this comes from a new food blog cutely called Oh She Glows: Vegan Recipes . The author writes about being inspired with these jars by Whole Foods Market, which is very popular for natural and organic food in the US, with 3 locations in the Toronto area.  Ottawa anyone?

The 'Goodness' Concept

Whole Foods Market created the idea for a jar (or bowl or Bento Box) based on six layers of goodness ingredients:

1) Base, cooked, whole grains or starchy vegetables like Quinoa, Rice, Couscous, Whole Wheat Pasta, Squash etc  

2) Protein, cooked and lean, like sprouted mung beans, soybeans (tofu, tempeh, edamane), lentils (any colour), beans (red, white, green), lean meats (3 oz)

3) Greens, either steamed (kale, collards, bok choy, chard, spinach, cabbage) or raw (watercress, arugula, lettuce and sprouts)

4) Vegetables, endless possibilities here so for example:  Broccoli, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, corn, peas, artichokes, radishes, peppers, tomatoes  

5) Seasonings, such as any fresh herb, ginger, garlic, chives, green onions, chilies, nutritional yeast, nori, cayenne and spice and herb mixes

6) Sauces/Condiments:  lemon/lime juice, fresh sales, hot sauce, low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, vinegar-based dressings and plain or infused vinegars

Mighty Wide-Mouth Mason Jars

500 ml wide-mouth mason jars can be found courtesy of Canadian Tire for example.  I bought six of them.  ((I'm also looking for jars with handles to make it easier to carry (yup they exist).  A Pottery Barn equivalent just doesn't exist here in Ottawa but they carry them and will ship them worldwide.))

The sheer beauty of this method is the ease of preparation.  I, for example, prepare lunches for the week ahead on a Sunday. 

I can fill 3-4 mason jars with various versions of the salads on Sundays and then grab one a day as I go out the door.  I keep one jar with just dressing and add the dressing each day.  All the ingredients keep well in the refrigerator for 4-5 days at a time. 

A Word About Wheat berries and Edamane

The 'Goodness' jars allowed me to try, for the first time, wheatberries and edamane. Superfoods R me!

Wheatberries I purchased from ... wait for it ... the The Wheat Berry/Grain de ble on Main Street in Ottawa.   This is a versatile whole grain from the wheat plant and can be used in salads, soups, stews, chlis or even sprouted to grow wheat grass (which some claim is a good healer/detoxifier) . 

They are just full of fibre and nutrients,include B-complex and Vitamin E. 

Edamame are young soybeans, which can be eaten either still in the pod or hulled.  When they are mature, they are used for making tofu.  Edamame really livens up a salad; in Japanese cooking they are used regularly as a snack.  With their brilliant, colourful green hues, they make a lively addition to a salad. 


Filling the Jars of Salad Goodness

Advance preparation is key to these salads. 
3 steps....  
---- One, measure and dice up the ingredients and put in bowls. 
---- Two, cook the grains and put them into the bowls.
---- Three, make a jar of dressing. 

The fun now begins -- layering ingredients  into the jars, usually with a bit of grain left over.

To take out the guesswork, I followed the amounts given by the Oh She Glows blogger and it worked perfectly for 4 mason jars.  So, I'm  passing it on.

Jars of Salad Goodness with Oil-Free Orange-Ginger Dressing

Ingredients for the jars:
(In the order shown in the main photo, bottom up)

1 cup uncooked wheatberries (makes 2 & 1/4 cup cooked)
1.5 cups diced red pepper (1 large)
1.5 cups diced green pepper (1 large)
1 cup uncooked quinoa (makes 2.5 cups cooked)
1 cup diced carrots (about 2) 

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 cup edamame
8 tsp parsley
Herbamare or kosher salt, to taste, if using

Ingredients for the Orange-Ginger Dressing
(Four 1/4 cup servings)

2/3 cup 100% pure orange juice (or use freshly squeezed)
1/3 cup 100% pure apple juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
Kosher salt, to taste (I used 1/4 tsp)


1. In a medium-sized pot, add quinoa and 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, until fluffy, about 15-20 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn. Do the same for the wheatberries, in another pot, but add 2 cups of water and cook until tender and chewy, likely cooking for about 5 mins longer than the quinoa.

2. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and parsley and put into separate bowls.

3. In a bowl or jar, whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside.

4. To fill one 500-ml mason jar, add ingredients in the following order:
------- 1/2 cup wheatberries
------- 1/4 cup each of green and red pepper
------- 1/2 cup quinoa
------- 1/4 cup carrots
------- 2 tbsp parsley
------- 1/4 cup edamame  
------- Herbamare or kosher salt, if using.

Alternatively, you can just mix the salad together into a big bowl along with the dressing. It too will keep in the fridge for 5-6 days.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

SmartCooks Celebrates Kim Novak's Birthday with a Nepenthe Restaurant 'Golden and Red Beet Salad'

February 13, 2012

SmartCooks here.  At this time of year most people celebrate Valentine's Day.  We don't.  Instead, every February 13 we recognize actress Kim Novak's birthday.  Why? Dunno, but it's a longstanding tradition and I don't mess with tradition.  So, Happy Birthday Kim Novak!  Hope she is finished treatments for breast cancer and feeling better. 

To honour Kim Novak's birthday (and an early Valentine's Day), I searched for information on her favourite foods. It was not easy. I only found 'fish' in one list.  You'd think that the Hollywood Ministries of Gossip would have sleuthed out these details, but apparently not.  Lots of gossip on her dating life (Frank Sinatra, naturally), engagements (Sammy Davis, Jr.), marriages (current veterinarian husband, Robert Malloy), and llama farming in Oregon and California. 

Food... silence.  Obviously, not a big, public focus of her acting life.  

It took research in two diverse areas of Kim's life but I eventually landed on a salad in her honour called 'Golden and Red Beet Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette'.  The Golden Beets are a tribute to a Golden Girl and the Red Beets a Happy Valentine's Day as well.  Isn't that so sweet it makes your teeth hurt? 

Here's how I arrived at this lovely salad offering.

First, I tried her films to check out culinary favourites.  I looked at one we just 'happen' to have PVR-ed (i.e,. the 1962 racy comedy Boy's Night Out).  I fast forwarded to see if she eats something intriguing in any of the scenes.)  Not.  Picnic features one of the sultriest, sexiest dance scenes on the silver screen between Kim Novak and William Holden. But no real food. 

I also You-Tubed Vertigo and scared myself silly watching an excerpt from the Alfred Hitchcock classic. But I hit pay dirt on food. (It turns out Alfred Hitchcock dished out more than horror... more than 80 dishes 'starred' in his various filmes, from Moroccan Tagine in the 'Man Who Knew Too Much', Quiche Lorraine in 'To Catch a Thief' to 'Pecan Pie' in 'Marnie'.) 

Vertigo, with Kim and James Stewart, features 'Maryland Turkey Supreme', a Hitchcock favourite.  I google-ed and found, to my horror, it contains loads of whipping cream, buttermilk, butter, and some turkey.  Ick.  Doubtless Kim just picked at the turkey portions and ignored the heavy creams.   

So, onward I searched and came across the most intriguing book released in the summer of 2011 called My Nepenthe   It's written by Romney Steele, a writer, cook, and visual artist.  She's the granddaughter of the Fassetts who built Nepenthe Restaurantnestled 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean, and with views to gaze at for hours on end.

Nepenthe, which translated from Greek means 'isle of no care' or an elixir that erases grief, sits on land originally owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.  When the Fassetts bought the site, they had restaurant built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.  

Nepenthe Restaurant became a gathering spot for celebrities and the bohemian set of the 1950s and 1960.  Janis Joplin.... Henry Miller .... Jimi Hendrix .... Steve McQueen ... Kim Novak ..... Clint Eastwood.... Elizabeth Taylor .... Richard Burton.   Its dance floor was featured in the filming of The Sandpiper  while guests sipped martinis, ordered from the eclectic menu and sat under the perfect California moonlight.  

Nepenthe, and its restaurant called Cafe Kevah, are still famous today, serving comfort food to the thriving local artistic community and visitors, especially the "Ambrosia Burger" (both a meat and vegetarian version).  Salads of course are a staple.  

For a full dinner with Kim Novak, I would put together a Nepenthe menu, and offer selections in keeping with the Golden Girl's Birthday and Valentine's Day, like 'Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing', 'Cranberry Sauce', 'Golden and Red Beet Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette' and 'Lemony Lemon Squares'.   

Happy Birthday Kim and Happy Valentine's Day too with Golden and Red Beet Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette!  

Golden and Red Beet Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette



8-12 baby golden and red beets
(2 bunches small or 1 bunch large), 
boiled or roasted, and peeled
8 cups field greens or arugula, rinsed 
(include the beet tops) 
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup candied or toasted pecans

Sherry Vinaigrette

1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 T sherry vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
6 T olive or safflower oil
1 T water
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the salad, halve or quarter the beets, depending on size. Combine the beets, greens, onion, and tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with the vinaigrette and season lightly with a little salt if needed. Sprinkle the goat cheese and pecans over the salad and serve.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the shallot, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil and water. Whisk in the thyme, salt, and pepper.

Note:  To roast beets, throw them scrubbed but unpeeled into a baking pan and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and add a splash of water and sherry vinegar. Cover tightly and roast at 400°F until fork tender, about 30 minutes for small ones. Peel the beets when still warm by rubbing between two paper towels.

And don't forget the beet greens, which can be used as well once they are thoroughly washed and dried.  

To candy pecans, toss nuts in a sugar syrup (equal parts water and sugar/honey); add a pinch of salt and spread them onto a lightly buttered parchment-covered pan. Bake at 300°F for about 25 minutes, until nicely toasted and caramelized.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

SmartCooks and Sunday Dinner Fit for The King

February 2012

Smartcooks here.  Guess who's coming to dinner this weekend for a belated birthday celebration?  Many people think he died in 1977.  Pshaw to that.  Our household knows he is still alive and living in Tweed, Ontario.  I'm talking about Elvis Presley himself.  His 77th birthday was January 8 -- we're a month late paying homage to himself but positive he won't mind. 

The menu will feature his favourite Sunday dinner -- no, not a fried bologna sandwich or fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.  I'm talking about meatloaf, the family Sunday staple.

I'm not ashamed (well a little) to say that I've baked a couple of items from his Cookbook, including the peanut butter nanaimo squares on page 194.  Can you say 2 cups of Icing S-U-G-A-R, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter,  1 12-ounce package of melted chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup butter.  Yikes.  All bad.  They disappeared fast.  

But his Sunday dinner staple was Meatloaf and the recipe is solid.  He apparently once confessed to a pert, ponytailed, weekend (ah) date, that he preferred meatloaf to steak because meatloaf was quicker to eat.  Not the best eating habits.  I also read that he once flew to Denver and stopped on the runway to accept delivery of 22 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from a restaurant there that was famous for them.  So.... hopefully, in Tweed, he or someone is feeding him a better diet.

Anyway, with all due respect to the King himself, I made a few tweaks to his meatloaf recipe in keeping with modern day food sensibilities.  (So did Shiksa in the Kitchen that features this photo from the Cookbook.) 

The original Elvis recipe is very basic (beef, egg, milk, salt, bread crumbs, tomato sauce for glaze).  I added in a few more items for taste purposes (e.g., onion, garlic).  Later versions of the Elvis Family cookbook do the same so I don't feel I'm messing too much with the King's tastes.  

His recipe doesn't specify the type of ground beef.  I used very lean and omitted most of the salt (Husband adds it liberally to cook foods so not much point.)   A glaze helps to finish the meatloaf; apparently, Elvis ate gravy or had tomato juice on the side.  Hmm.... 

And.... And ... Perfect Meatloaf Baking is a cinch today due to the modern engineering of pans.  Thanks to the infomercial seen recently on TV, (sadly 'tis true), it's now super easy to Bake, Lift and Serve an entire meatloaf painlessly out of the pan.  See Perfect Lift and Serve Meatloaf pan for yourself.  

Meatloaf Ingredients:

1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T vegetable oil
1 lb lean ground beef
3/4 tsp salt (can omit or reduce)
3 slices of bread 
1/2 tsp of pepper or to taste
2 eggs
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 can low-sodium tomato juice (2/3 cup)

Glaze ingredients:
1/4 cup ketchup
1 T brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.  Saute the minced onion and celery in oil for 5 minutes in a skillet.  Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes more, until the vegetables are softened and fragrant.  Remove from heat.

In a bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients with the meat, until combined.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk and then add them to the meat mixture.  Mix the eggs completely into the seasoned meat mixture i.e., the meat is not slippery with egg.

Press the meat mixture into your Perfect Meatloaf Pan.  Pour low-sodium tomato juice over the top of the meat and cover pan with foil.  Bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze ingredients in a small bowl.  At 40 minutes, remove the loaf pan from the oven and uncover.  Spread the glaze evenly across the top of the meatloaf.  Return it to the oven, uncovered, and bake for another 20 minutes.  

Take meatloaf out and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.  Enjoy Sunday dinner and raise a glass to The King.  Long may he reign o'er us!

Bonus Track:
While eating dinner, you can listen to one of Husband's favourite Elvis songs, called Old Shep (don't cry for Hoover).

Thursday, 2 February 2012

SmartCooks and Super Bowl Apple Charlotka Dessert

February 2012

SmartCooks here.  I'm told I never post any dessert recipes.  Truth is, my friends are all wayyyy better at making scrumptious desserts than I am (and you know who you are!).  I am a willing taste tester.  Anytime. Except it's Super Bowl weekend, meaning a few folks are coming over to watch the game on one of the big screen TV in the house.  They can take their pick from the half dozen or so TVs in the house (embarrassed not), but I assume the main one in the TV room will be the centre of action for the game and food.  

It means Menu Planning R Me, and that includes dessert.  I'm trying dutifully to find a 'healthy' Super Bowl meal that revolves around chicken wings, dips and sides.  Wish me luck on that front.  But I did find an almost guilt-free dessert called Apple Charlotka.  

I've made Apple Charlotka once already for a house-warming but didn't taste it. I will make it again this weekend (actually I will make two -- one for RC!).  I happened upon the recipe when I was browsing through one of my favourite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  The author/photographer hasn't posted much in recent months as she has been finishing her first cookbook based on her blog (available Fall 2012).  But, as she herself noted, there's only so much editing you can do without needing to do something else -- like bake, take pictures (photos are all from her site) and post a recipe for Apple Charlotka.

Apple Charlotka fits the bill for 'healthening up' Super Bowl menus.  It's originally a Russian recipe that defies categorization -- no milk, butter, crusts, or a lot of flour and sugar.  It's based on six (organic) Granny Smith apples, is a cinch to make, and pretty to view.  It neatly fits the January/February 'No Dessert' rule (self-imposed), the need-a-pick-me-up weather, AND something interesting and somewhat healthy-ish for Grey Cup hosting.  It will pair nicely with any of fruit, yogurt, or, ahem, ice cream.  Apple Charlotka it is. 

There are a couple of must-haves with this recipe.  

First, it works best if baked in a 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment paper (I cut out a circle of parchment for the bottom).  I've been looking for an excuse to visit Paradis post-Christmas and this was perfect.  I walked out with both a pan AND, even more important, Husband found a funky-looking Zyliss Easy Twist Apple Corer.  How timely!  It worked like a charm.  

Second, the recipe recommends beating the eggs and sugar until thick and "ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs".  Huh? I You-Tubed this technique to no avail, so eventually winged it and used the electric mixer for about 3 minutes and I could kind of see ribbons on the beaten mixture so called it done.  It seemed to work OK.  If anyone knows or can show me the technique.... let me know.  

Third, and a key point, is pouring the batter over the apples.  At first, the author wrote to "pour the batter over all the exposed apples".  She later updated the posting to clarify that the batter should be poured and pressed down into the apples.  I didn't press enough on my first try so there was more batter on top showing than apple.  I intend to mix it more on the second attempt and am sure it will look and taste devine.    

Apple Sharlotka
(Smitten Kitchen recipe, with thanks to her husband's mother, grandmother, etc.) 
Butter/pam for pan and parchment paper 
6 large organic tart apples (e.g., Granny Smith)
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla 
Ground cinnamon (try fresh from Spice Hunters; if not use good ground cinnamon) 
Powdered sugar, to finish


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
2) Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.  Butter (or pam) the paper and sides of the pain.
3) Peel, core (with the handy-dandy Zyliss Easy Twist Apple Corer), and halve the apples, then chop to medium-sized pieces about 1/4 inch thick.  A mandolin works well for slicing.
4) Place apples in the pan.
5) In a large bowl, with an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. (For me, this was about 3 minutes or so, I think).
6) Beat in vanilla, and then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. Batter will be very thick.
7) Pour over the apples in the pain, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter over all apples. Make sure to press the batter down into the apple pile. The batter should be level with the top of the apples.
8) Bake in oven for 55-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out free of batter.
9) Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then flip it out onto a rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it onto a serving platter. (I did this with no mishaps!)
10) Dust lightly with ground cinnamon and powdered icing sugar.

Note: It can be served warm or cooled, and/or with some lightly whipped sour cream, yogurt, ice cream. Your choice.

Who is playing in this Super Bowl game anyway?  Doesn't matter... enjoy the food (and the game).