from spiders to water lilies

This is a really special cookbook that we bought in Cambodia when we were there in 2010.  It was published by Friends-International, an NGO organization that reaches out to at-risk children and families in SE Asia through a variety of programs - including a program that teaches youth to cook-for and run restaurants.  There are two Friends training-restaurants in Phnom Penh - Friends the Restaurant and Romdeng.  We were lucky enough to dine at Romdeng several times while in Phnom Penh.  It was a beautiful and tranquil restaurant set in a lush, green courtyard and specialized in traditional Cambodian dishes.  Romdeng was also where we picked up "From Spiders to Water Lilies".  (Which we then carried in our backpacks for a further four weeks in Thailand - totally worth it though.)

  the streets of Phnom Penh

the streets of Phnom Penh

  pages from the cookbook with notes from the students and lovely photos

pages from the cookbook with notes from the students and lovely photos

The book itself is beautiful - filled with information about Cambodian cooking, ingredients and recipes, as well as information about the training-restaurant program and stories from the students about how it had changed their lives.  I love looking through the large, glossy photos and remembering my favourite dishes from Cambodia - fish amok, beef luc-lak, pumpkin curry and coconut-lime shakes.

 If any of you would actually like this recipe, I'd be happy to forward it on...

If any of you would actually like this recipe, I'd be happy to forward it on...

As the title of the book implies, there actually is a recipe for spiders!  Yep, 'Crispy Tarantulas with Lime and Kampot Black Pepper Dip'...I don't think we'll be making that one anytime soon (or EVER). Can you imagine buying a box full of tarantulas at the pet store to cook up for appies later?  That being said...Trev did sample some deep-fried tarantula while we were at a street market - he said it tasted like teriyaki chicken - um, sure...

  crispy-fried creepy crawlies at the street market

crispy-fried creepy crawlies at the street market

We haven't made very many recipes out of this book (maybe only 2).  I'm not too sure why that is, other than the fact that some of the ingredients would be tricky to get.  Also, I think it would be hard to have the dishes taste the same - a little something would always be missing and it would make me miss Cambodia.  Oh well - even if we don't use this book often, it's still one of favourite cook books.

And because I couldn't resist, here are a few more photos from Cambodia...

  street market in Phnom Penh

street market in Phnom Penh

  cooking class in Siem Reap

cooking class in Siem Reap

  I loved playing with all the little kids (and they loved having their picture taken)

I loved playing with all the little kids (and they loved having their picture taken)

sweetheart sugar cookies

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and I've starting getting ready by making cookies to send to my grandparents and sister in BC.  I picked up the little Valentine's take-out boxes at Michael's to send them in.  

I decided to try out a new sugar cookie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook I got for Christmas.  I loved the way these cookies turned out.  They're nice and crisp with a sweet, buttery taste, without being oily.  I also really liked that they didn't spread out, so my hearts, X's and O's stayed exactly the same as when I cut them out.  The dough was easy to work with and roll out.  This sugar cookie recipe is definitely a 'keeper' for cut-out cookies. 

The sugar cookie recipe was the first one I tried from this book, but it looks like there's lots of other great recipes too.  I'm eyeing up the recipes for lavender cupcakes, green tea cupcakes, brooklyn blackout cake and key lime pie.  It's such a cute little book, with pretty pictures; it would make a great gift for a friend who likes baking. 

Sugar Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups butter, softened
  • 2 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of the stand mixer using the paddle attachment until it's light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Stir the flour, salt and cream of tartar together in a large bowl.  Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low until just combined.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix on medium-low until the dough just comes together.  Don't overmix the dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and work it into a ball.  Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1/4" thick.  Cut out cookies with your favourite heart-shaped cookie cutters and place them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes on until the edges are lightly browned.

Allow the cookies to cool completely on a wire rack before decorating with your favourite icing and sprinkles.

Recipe adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

baking powder biscuits

This recipe comes from a very special cookbook given to me by my grandmother. 

A Guide to Good Cooking: The Five Roses Cook Book, written by and dedicated to "the Housewives of Canada".  It was printed in 1938 and it's pages are yellowed, frayed and fragile.  I absolutely love that it has some little notes written by my grandma in it's pages.  To me, it's a family heirloom that I will always treasure.  The book has some interesting recipes, like Dandelion Wine and a chapter called "the Art of Deep Fat Frying".  The baking recipes in the book are classics, with time-proven methods.    

This has been one of my favourite recipes for a long time.  I have lots of fond memories of making biscuits with my mom then eating as many as I could stuff my face with...soft, warm and so tasty (even better with butter melting on the top).  I occasionally make them to go along with soup in the winter, or like today, they make a nice breakfast. 

Baking Powder Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 F.  Mix dry ingredients together.  Work in the butter, using a pastry blender or by rubbing between your fingers until the pieces are somewhere around the size of a grain of rice.  Make a hollow in the center then slowly add the milk.  Stir together with a fork.  The dough should be soft, but not sticky.  Turn the dough onto a floured countertop and knead very lightly for a few seconds.  Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch and cut biscuits with a cookie cutter or the top of a drinking glass.  Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for 12 to 15 minutes.  The biscuits should be well risen and lightly browned.  Serve warm with butter, honey or jam.  Uneaten biscuits (if there are any) can be stored in a large ziploc bag. 

new books, new challenges

I love cookbooks.  I could spend hours looking through the books on my shelf, even if I'm not planning on making anything or looking for a recipe.  You can often find me curled up in my comfy chair with a cup of coffee and a stack of cookbooks on the floor.  There's something about them that captivates and inspires me.  They don't even have to have pictures, but I do love big, glossy, delicious looking photos.

my kitchen bookshelf
Trevor and I recently ordered some new cookbooks on Amazon.  Two for me, and one for him.

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart has been on my wish list for a long time.  I was really excited to open it when it came in the mail, but also kind-of nervous.  I mean, it's a SERIOUS book.  Sure, I can make bread from scratch, and it's a culinary achievement that I'm proud of, but I didn't feel like my self-taught skills would be sufficient for this book.  After looking through the book, it's not quite so scary, but I've decided that I will need to tackle it the same way I would study any other text book (yeah, I'm a nerd and still crack open my books to look stuff up).  I'm going to read, highlight, underline, make notes and THEN I'll start on some recipes.  I'm looking forward to learning about the art and science behind bread and I think that what this book teaches me will help develop my baking skills in general.  Here are some of the recipes that caught my eye: brioche, cinnamon raisin walnut bread, french bread, potato rosemary bread and so many others...I mean, is there anything better than fresh, hot bread with a smear of butter? It might be a little while before I get started on these recipes, until then I'll keep making my current favorite multi-grain bread recipe.

Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine...ahhh, the book of my Kitchen Aid mixer's dreams... What sounds delicious?  banana coconut bread with macadamia nuts, corn and apricot muffins with orange essence, glazed maple-pecan oatmeal scones, tomato and mozzarella tart, cream puffs, chocolate genoise cake...I could go on and on, it all sounds amazing.  The books from America's Test Kitchen are great, before each recipe they explain all the trials they went through while perfecting the recipe and in the process reveal a lot of secrets about technique and ingredients.  Every time I try a new recipe, I learn something new in the process.  This book is great for the average home baker, whether you're just starting out, or if you've been playing in the kitchen for years.  It's definitely worth checking out. 

Last but not least, Trevor ordered Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan.  It's a creative and interesting book, almost a combination of biography and cookbook.  I know Trevor is going to want to make the fresh ramen noodles (apparently the correct pronunciation is "ra-myun"; I'm still trying to wrap my tongue around that one) and dashi broth (maybe the bacon variety?).  A lot of the recipes are written with restaurant quantities in mind, and would require cooking for the masses and shopping for obscure ingredients at the Asian market or online, which will make this book a challenge.  The ginger scallion noodles look awesome, the picture of vinegar pickles reminds me of Cambodia, and the momofuku pork buns look melt-in-your mouth good.  There is definitely a wide variety of recipes in the book that are a combination of traditional, Asian-inspired, haute cuisine and noodle-shop simple.  They are separated into three sections based on the restaurants they come from.  The photos in the book are beautiful and they inspire you to try the recipes yourself.  One more thing: did I mention the "meat glue"?  You're going to have to read-up on that one on your own, it kind-of creeps me out.

one more picture...I bought this beautiful arrangement at the Strathcona Farmer's Market on the weekend.  It looks like spring to me.