Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Change is good

Hi All,

Sometimes, change is good. Its been a great run with Blogspot but I'd like to re-direct you to my new site!

Its still called Vanilla Bean Online but my provider will now be Wordpress. It allows for more creative freedom and its easier for readers as well. It's easy to navigate, its more visually pleasing and its easy to sign up to get automatic notifications whenever I post. (should be about once a month)

This site will remain active as I wouldn't want to lose all my hard work! You can always come back.

New site:

Thank you!


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zucchini Flowers - Fried & Stuffed

Finally! Hello again.

Marriage has sure kept me busy. I've had so little time after work to post recipes and honestly, I was in a bit of a rut.

However today my luck has changed! I made the most awesome fried, stuffed zucchini flowers!

They are edible zucchini blossoms. See the Wikipedia entry: 

They are most commonly prepared dipped in batter, deep fried and with a sprinkle of salt.  That's how my Grandmother, Nonna Rosina made them.

They have a delicate flavour that goes well with just about anything. I've even heard of them served as a dessert, sprinkled with sugar instead of salt.

Blossoms are prepared in the summer, for the brief and precious time when they are in bloom. Lucky for me, growing up in St-Leonard, my grandmother lived just downstairs from us! So, it was a real treat whenever I stumbled upon them while raiding her fridge.  Jaaackpot.  

She simply fried them after having dipped them into a thick batter which puffed up during the frying process. What causes the dough to puff up?  Well, her batter had "Magic" in it.
Nooo, not like Harry Potter magic.. Its a common brand of baking powder.
She always called it "u magic" (pronounced "ou magic-e")

They were great hot or cold, straight from the fridge.

You can sometimes find blossoms at a market such as the Marche Jean-Talon. There are lots of Italians there :) so they may be easier to come by.  I have "special ordered" them from Marche de L'Ouest but they were pricey. There's no demand in the West Island so you gotta pay to get 'em!

This year I finally planted zucchini in my garden and although I love zucchini, my real motive was to obtain the flowers…these soon to be, lovely fried blossoms from heaven.

The benefit of growing your own:
-The flowers and the leaves are beautiful.
-They are very easy to grow and take care of.
-One plant produces quite a few flowers.

I bought the seeds at Reno-Depot believe it or not! 
I recommend that you plant several, if you want to make batches of 12 flowers at a time.
Not all of the flowers from one plant bloom at the same time so you'll have more blooming week after week!

They are great plain - no doubt, but I wanted to try something a little different this time. I have a few Italian Food Network chefs which I look to for inspiration in times like these. 
In this case, it was David Rocco who was going to guide me. 
Check out his website http://www.davidrocco.com/  ..BUT NOT RIGHT NOW  - read my post first!   David Rocco is living my dream! He's from Canada and now lives in Florence, cooking away, seemingly loving his Florentine lifestyle… ah well....

Anyway, I used my recipe for the batter  & David's for the stuffing. 

He stuffs his flowers with a piece of mozzarella cheese and an anchovy filet. 
DON'T run for the hills people!!  I know that when you read "anchovy" you nearly shut down your computer right there….You don't have to use the anchovy but let me explain why I loved this idea before you say no. I like a little anchovy here and there but I can't say I love it. 
However, I know that when you pair the salty anchovy with the mild tasting mozzarella, they compliment each other so well. Then put those in a little fried package and WOW! How can you go wrong? My husband was opposed to this idea but as expected , he loved them! Yeah, he did! When asked about the Anchovy he said reluctantly, "ok, well I like them like THIS" 
I'm breaking him down-slowly.

Ok enough anchovy persuasion….You can opt to stuff them with Feta cheese like local chef Franca Mazza does. Feta is salty enough on its own. (use only the good quality greek Feta please), You can also just use plain mozzarella.

Puffy batter

Simply blend the following ingredients until smooth : 

2 large eggs
1 cup of flour
1 cup of water
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of baking powder "nu' poco di Magic"

Zucchini Flowers

12 zucchini flowers
1 large mozzarella ball, cut into narrow strips
12 anchovy filets

**Note: I use half a filet per flower for a more subtle taste. I cut them in half , lengthwise.

Salt to season

Use either Peanut, Vegetable or extra virgin olive oil for frying 
Zest from 1/2 a lemon (Optional)

Instructions: (After reading, make sure to check out my pics & tips below)
With a dry dishtowel or soft pastry brush, gently brush off any dirt on the flower. Do not rinse with water. Check inside for any insects and shake them out. 

Gently reach into the flower without breaking the petals and very gently remove the inner stamen.  Also, leave at least 2 inches of the outer stem intact to aid in dipping and frying.

Remove the little sharp "thingies" at the base of the flower. See flower to the right, below...

Stuff zucchini flowers with an anchovy filet and a strip of mozzarella.

**NOTE: I use a medium sized pot and put about 2 inches of oil. // I used peanut oil this time - worked out well.

Heat the oil. 

Gently coat stuffed zucchini flowers with batter. 

Fry zucchini flowers in oil until golden brown. 

Place on paper towel to absorb excess oil and immediately season with salt. (and lemon zest if using)

Use either Peanut, Vegetable or extra virgin olive oil for frying 

Tips & Pictures: 

Freshly picked in the morning, when the blossoms open. I had to fight off many , many bees to bring you this recipe...

Stamen removed, gently. Make sure not to hurt the flower :) Its hard to see but there's no stamen in there.

Remove the sharp little things at the base of the flower. Its easy just break them off with your fingers. Sorry, don't know what they're called.

I placed one strip of mozzarella, and my half anchovy filet. (You can also use fresh mozzarella but make sure you remove excess liquid with a paper towel.)

I found it helpful to coat my stuffed flower using a spoon. In this pic, I'm turning the flower in the batter by it's stem, using the spoon as a support so the filling doesn't fall out into the batter. Then, using that same spoon, I lowered the flower into the hot oil.

The oil must be hot, so be careful. I have a gas stove top and I heated my oil on med-high but then lowered it to med when I thought the oil was getting too volatile. Usually the oil starts to , as I say, get too excited after about the 4th - 5th flower so I lowered the heat slightly.

On the other hand, when frying, if your oil is not hot enough, your food will absorb too much of the oil making it heavy and obviously, too oily. Gross!

I like using a medium sized pot rather than a frying pan. There is less splatter. The high sides of the pot protect you somewhat. Also, I didn't have to use as much oil this way.

If using a pot like mine, do not fry more than 3 flowers at a time as to not overcrowd and lower the temperature of the oil. 

Using a slotted spoon, I removed them from the oil when they were golden in colour and put them onto a paper towel to drain.

Yeah, I know…looks amazing, eh? It was! I assure you. Just look at that gooey cheese and the beautiful golden exterior. It was warm, crispy and super tasty!

I hope you get to try these soon! 

Enjoy :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tiramisu - Two cookies compete!


I recently bought Gourmet Magazine on my last trip to the grocery store. http://www.gourmet.com/
I don't usually buy it because I've got countless cookbooks and I also receive Food Network Magazine in the mail. However, this issue was all about Classic Italian recipes. I flipped through a few pages and saw this Tiramisu recipe.

Tiramisu means "Pick-me-up" in Italian.

Tiramisus to live up to…

My Mom's:
I was never really into it. I'd had a bite or two growing up but I wasn't a fan of dessert in general.
My mom makes it every single Christmas. People say its the best they've tasted and now, even I love it.
Her cream is light, fluffy and voluminous. Her secret? She whips egg whites and folds them in.

Da Emma's:
My friend David told me that I HAD TO TRY the tiramisu at DaEmma Restaurant. I was sceptical but he was so right! I never miss a chance to have it when I go and of course, from day one, I've been obsessed with decoding the flavour to figure out what it could be made with. The waiter there said that if he told me , he'd have to kill me. lol I don't care, I'll just keep going there to enjoy it. The mascarpone cream mixture is the best I've tasted.

Now, about the cookies. I heard that the traditional Genovese style tiramisu is made with giant lady fingers (cut in two, lengthwise) as opposed to the more widely used Savoiardi lady fingers. Their consistencies are very different. Giant Lady fingers and soft and cakey while Savoirardi cookies are airy, light and crisp.

This was my first time making a full sized traditional Tiramisu and I could not decide which cookies to use. I actually can't decide anything and I usually regret whatever I choose anyway. Ah , the nature of a Libra. So what did I do? I used both. I figured that I'd turn this into a Tiramisu cookie face-off and have family and friends decide which are best!

Who will win?? Genovese tradition or standard Savoiardi?? We'll be judging on how they absorb the liquid, consistency, taste and how they look.

This recipe intrigued me because it calls for Zabaglione mixed with mascarpone folded with whipped cream. 

Zabaglione: an Italian dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, a sweetwine, usually Marsala wine
Marsala wine: produced in the region surrounding the Italian city of Marsala in Sicily - fortified wine similar to Port
Mascarpone: an Italian triple-cream cheese made from crème fraîche

I was hesitant because I didn't know if the Marsala flavour would be too strong. The smell and look of it reminded me of a tawny port.  I didn't want my Tiramisu to taste like that. 
Well, there was no reason to stress.  It gives off such a wonderful, subtle sweetness - the mixture was worthy of being eaten on its own! I was thrilled with the outcome.

Now finally, the recipe:



2 cups of freshly brewed espresso (or 2 cups of boiling hot water w/ 3 tbsp of instant espresso powder)
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp of sugar - divided
3 tbsp of Tia Maria liqueur
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup of dry Marsala wine
1lb of mascarpone cheese (2+1/2 cups)
1 cup of heavy cream 35% - chilled
36 Savoiardi cookies
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting


13x9x3 inch baking dish


Stir together freshly prepared espresso, 1tbsp of sugar and Tia Maria in a shallow bowl until sugar dissolves; let cool.

Beat egg yolks, Marsala and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld mixer (This made me nervous because I've never used my mixer to beat something over the stove but it was ok. Just make sure that the cord of your mixer stays clear of the flame/heat. Also, make sure your water is not boiling or your egg might cook too quickly and become lumpy). 

Beat until it has tripled in volume (5 to 8 minutes) 

Remove bowl from heat.
Beat in Mascarpone until combined.

In a separate large bowl, whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks.

Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly. 
Quickly dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into the coffee mixture, line the bottom of the baking dish with 18 ladyfingers in 3 rows. (trimming edges if necessary) 

Spread half the mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining 18 ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in the dish.
Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top 

Dust lightly with cocoa.

Chill, covered for at least 6 hours.

Let Tiramisu stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Tiramisu can be chilled up to 2 days.

Yolks may not be fully cooked. 

The verdict!!

Everyone loved this recipe. Its a real winner!  I was serving seconds and even thirds. (Ok specifically, it was my father-in-law who had thirds)

My mom, who reigns supreme with her Tiramisu recipe, said that this one was really good & that I should definitely make it again.

Which cookie won? Let me just say that all cookies are winners. "Losing cookie" - sounds so cruel and unjust ...

The cookie which fared best were the Savoiardi. I guess that's why they are more widely used. They absorbed the coffee but still retained their shape and texture. The giant lady fingers seemed to mush down , even with a minimal amount of coffee. You can clearly see that the Savoiardi kept their shape (to the left). 

I just want to say that my fist layer of cookies were dipped a little too long in the coffee mixture. I got the hang of it by my second layer. I also find that I put way too much cocoa on top for my taste. The Zabaglione mixture was better without cocoa.

I hope you try this recipe! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simple Salmon En Croute - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Hi Everybody!

I've got a great recipe for you all. I just tried it tonight and couldn't wait to share!

Once again, over the weekend I chose a few random cookbooks and said to myself, "Ok, I gotta pick one or two new recipes and make them this week"  I make it sound like its such chore!

So as I was having my Saturday morning coffee, flipping through Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution cookbook …

I want to interrupt my story to tell you that my husband laughs at me little because as he reads his newspaper on Saturday mornings, catching up on current events, I sit there pouring over several cookbooks - asking him which of these recipes he'll want to eat next week.  He usually exclaims, 
"I don't know what I'll want to eat NEXT WEEK!"   

Jeez…I do.

Anyway,  I came across this recipe towards the end of the book. Salmon en Croute. It caught my eye because first of all, I try to eat fish at least once a week (Omega 3!!!!) and because it called for puff pastry. I LOVE anything in puff pastry. Put cardboard in a little puff pastry and I'll eat it.
I looked over the recipe to see if it was feasible for a weeknight dinner and it was - Simple ingredients, fresh, not heavy, cooking time was acceptable.

I don't know about you but whenever I think fish and puff pastry, I also automatically think "cream". This recipe does not contain cream. Perfect for a weeknight. I tend to reserve heavier, more rich foods for the weekend.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Jamie Oliver's recipes , cookbooks , products - anything Jamie.    His Food Revolution cookbook is one of my favourites because the recipes are easy, delicious, international and affordable. 


Serves 4-6

  • All purpose flour for dusting
  • 2 sheets of puff pastry ( I bought frozen Tenderflake puff pastry)
  • 1x 1 + 3/4 pounds of Salmon fillets bones removed and preferably skinned (I used trout this time)
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper
  • 1/4 cup black olive tapenade (I bought Fontaine Sante)
  • a small bunch of fresh Basil
  • 2 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 beaten egg (to brush on your pastry)
  • 1/4 pound ball of fresh mozzarella (Saputo is fine - Looks like this (below) and is usually stored in water)

To prepare your salmon en croute:

Preheat oven to 400F
Get yourself a large flat cookie sheet and dust with flour
Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour.
Lay the puff pastry as is -  out of the box
Roll out your pastry until its the same size as your cookie sheet. (about 12x6 inches) (Mine was slightly bigger and it worked out fine, I just rolled out the pastry to the size of my pan. I also had two small fillets , I placed them side by side, so it worked out)
Place the pastry into your floured pan.
Drizzle the salmon fillet with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Transfer your fillet to the pastry, skin side down, then spoon the black olive paste over top, spreading it out in a thin layer.
Pick the basil leaves , tear into large pieces and place them over the fish.
Slice the tomatoes and place them over the basil.
Tear the mozzarella into pieces and scatter these on top.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
Gather up the sides of the pastry and pinch and push them together.
With a pastry brush, brush your beaten egg over the pastry edges. This will ensure your "croute" becomes a beautiful golden colour.

To cook and serve your salmon en croute.

Place the cookie sheet at the very bottom of the preheated oven with an empty cookie sheet on the rack above to protect the top from getting too much heat.
Cook for 35 minutes, then remove from the oven and serve in the middle of the table so that everyone can cut themselves a slice
Great served with any steamed veg or a lovely green salad (the usual story!)

Steph's notes: There's only one thing I would do differently next time - just to try..I would like to use Feta or soft goat cheese instead of fresh Mozzarella. I think that the flavour would go so well with the olive tapenade. Of course I wouldn't put much and I wouldn't salt the dish as much. I could just imagine it browning a little. mmmmm! I'll try and get back to you! =)

Right about at this stage, I knew this was gonna be great That's why I started taking pictures from this point..lol

Yay - Cheese!

I folded the edges in as neatly as I could.

After the egg wash
I really wanted to place it in a nice dish for the picture but  alas, it was stuck.

Does it look tasty?  Don't now how it looks to you guys.
It looks good to me 'cause I made it and ate it like, two seconds after this shot.
My taste buds were dancing the cha-cha!!

See why Omega 3 is so important for maintaining good health! Click on the link below.
Its great to prevent heart disease, improves brain function, and more (I accidentally wrote brian function…so I guess I need more Omega 3)


Thanks for reading xoxo

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Party Snacks!! Hot Chocolate Almonds & Spicy Baked Chickpeas

Good morning all!

The eggplant feature is coming but FIRST…I wanted to share two new exciting recipes - yes two! 
I'm pairing them because they are very similar prep-wise and both would be great for your next get-together.  

Reasons to make these: They're tasty and satisfying - flavours are complex and interesting. They don't require many ingredients, super quick/easy to make and they're a healthy change from the usual store bought snack foods.

Come to think of it, you don't see many homemade snacks these days. I haven't seen a homemade snack in years…lol..

Anyway, these are sure to raise some eyebrows and wake up some taste buds - believe me! I hope you get as inspired as I was.

The first snack on my list is the "Hot" Chocolate Almonds. Pun intended. They give off a little heat and are reminiscent of Mexican Hot Chocolate. 

While browsing on-line, I fell upon this lovely food blog called "A Full Measure of Happiness" and found this recipe. The author named her recipe "Mexican Hot Chocolate Spiced Almonds". I encourage you to check it out!  (Link to blog at the end of this post)

Just imagine the magnificent flavours of the chocolate, the spice (cinnamon & cayenne) and the maple syrup combined. 

The second is Spicy Baked Chickpeas, seen on the Food Network show "5 Ingredient Fix"with Claire Robinson. 

I was watching this very interesting episode "Show you share Tapas". She whipped up this recipe so quickly , it wasn't even funny. I thought to myself "I have all those ingredients!! I"m going to make this right now!! So I ran to my office (my pantry) and emerged with my 5 ingredients in hand. I prepared it before the show even ended. She (Claire) kept repeating how addictive these chickpeas would be and she was right. In fact, as I was preparing them this morning  I couldn't stop picking at them lol. They're crispy and flavourful..mmm. Although, they didn't go too well with my coffee. bleh..

Hot Chocolate Almonds


  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Cups raw almonds
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Combine maple syrup, brown sugar, salt, cayenne and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.  Next, fold in the almonds coating them in the syrup mixture. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour onto the prepared baking sheet, and spread them out into a single layer–this takes a little effort, ’cause they are very sticky at this point! 
(No kidding! I'm not patient and this was testing me…ooohh boy. You touch one and five move along with it!! They stick to your fingers OMG...And the longer you take to do this, the stickier they get!! I just gave up and thought, as long as there are no big clumps of almonds, they'll be fine lol)

Bake in the oven (middle rack) until the syrup around the almonds turns a darker brown, about 20 minutes.  Keep your eye on them because they fast in the oven and there’s no way to turn back once you’ve gone too far!  When finished, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Meanwhile, place the cocoa powder into a resealable bag.  When the almonds are cool, break them apart and toss ‘em in the bag until they are generously dusted with cocoa.

Steph's notes: I think I would have added more sugar and a little more salt but you can definitely adjust it to your taste.  I like a more intense sweet/salty flavour. Also, when you're breaking the almonds apart, don't clean off too much of the crusted syrup. When you toss them in the cocoa, it will settle in all the little nooks and crannies - They'll look nicer.

Spicy Baked Chickpeas

  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika ( l love the rich colour of smoked paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (I put less than this because I'm not a fan of cumin however, I don't omit it. It adds another dimension)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • Kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Rinse and drain the chickpeas and dry by rolling them around in a kitchen towel. Combine the oil, paprika cumin, cayenne and salt in a large bowl. Add chickpeas and toss to coat evenly. Transfer the chickpeas to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread them out in a single layer. Bake until golden and crispy, 25 to 35 minutes, shaking the tray to toss after 15 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the chickpeas to a serving bowl.

I hope you try these. Enjoy & Thank you for reading!

Blog: A Full Measure of Happiness:   http://laurenzietsman.wordpress.com/