Monday, July 28, 2014

Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding

Healthier Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is one of those simple-yet-decadent desserts that everyone seemed to love except for me for most of my life. I finally tried a wonderful, homemade version that a friend made in college, and like so many other critical desserts that I had been missing out on, changed my mind. But it's not for the faint at heart, calling for tons of sugar and cream, not to mention the rice itself, which is typically of the high-glycemic-index white variety. This version makes a few simple tweaks to eliminate the dairy, reduce the fat, increase the fiber, and supercharge the flavor. 

The most obvious way to make rice pudding healthier is simply to use brown rice instead of white. It's easier said than done, though, since brown rice takes a lot longer to cook, which is why the recipe calls for pre-cooking the rice to al dente (tender but still chewy). You can tell the rice is ready when the grain is just on the verge of opening, like the photo below. 

Healthier Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding

You'll use almond milk instead of heavy cream. Almond milk is considerably thinner and less creamy than, well, cream, but don't worry - the pudding will turn out as thick as it should. The par-cooked rice hasn't released all of its starch yet, so as it finishes cooking in the almond milk, that starch will thicken the pudding on its own. But, for maximum creaminess, you can use (full fat) coconut milk or a combination of coconut milk and coconut cream instead. 

But, in the absence of fat, you get blandness - unless you replace it with some serious flavor. In this case, I used cinnamon - which is standard in rice pudding - and orange blossom water - which is standard in very few American pantries, I know. Orange blossom water, which is sometimes called orange flower water, is an aromatic liquid flavored by the oil of orange tree blossoms. It sounds stranger than it is. I am familiar with it as a common flavor in Moroccan and Turkish desserts, but it is a commonly used ingredient throughout North Africa and the middle east

Healthier Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding
It's worth investing in a bottle since, as you can tell from the expiration date on mine, it lasts forever!

You can find orange blossom water in middle eastern groceries stores, online and, depending where you live, possibly also in the "ethnic" foods aisle of the supermarket, near the other middle eastern ingredients like tahini. If you can't find this ingredient, though, you can easily substitute orange zest, which will give you a more familiar bright and citrusy orange flavor, as opposed to the more muted, flowery orange flavor the water lends. Either way is perfectly acceptable, and will go nicely with the cinnamon and pistachios. 

Healthier Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding

Today's recipe is an ode to the Muslim celebration called Eid, which commemorates the end of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, a time of fasting, fellowship and prayer. After so many weeks of daily fasting and prayer (...well, others, not me. I'm not Muslim, and I've been doing the opposite of fasting lately), a no-holds-barred gustatory extravaganza is in order. My research (aka Meriem's expertise) tells me that rice pudding is a common dessert that is included in the Eid meal, alongside other pastries, puddings and sweet bites like almond paste fruits. Given the wide array of dessert possibilities, it's not surprising that when Meriem invited some of her blogger friends to a virtual Eid party, and we all brought desserts! Scroll down past the recipe to check out the rest of the recipes from the party.

Eid Mubarak!

Healthier Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding

Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding

  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked to al dente (soft, but grains not open yet)
  • 1 cup sweetened almond milk (or other milk of choice)
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange blossom water
  • 1/2 teaspoon tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon salted pistachios, plus more for garnish

  1. Combine the rice, milk, honey, cinnamon, vanilla and orange blossom water in a small saucepan. The milk should cover the rice completely. Stir to combine.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed enough so that the grains of rice have opened and the liquid is below the level of the rice.
  3. Turn off the heat, and add tapioca starch. Stir for 60-90 second until the pudding thickens. Then stir in the pistachios.
  4. Let cool slightly, then garnish with additional cinnamon and pistachios before serving.
  5. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week; reheat before serving.

(1) If using unsweetened almond milk, add an additional 1/2 Tablespoon honey, or to taste
(2) If using unsalted pistachios, add a pinch of salt
(3) Most people are used to raisins in rice pudding. I did not add them because the brown rice is much chewier than white would be. If you want them though, add about 2 Tablespoons golden or brown raisins.

Algerian Almond Paste Fruits by Culinary Couture
Moroccan Bisteeya by Club Narwhal
Bread Halwa by 40 Aprons
Double Chocolate Baklava by The Sweet Tooth Life
Cashew Baklava Fingers by Wandering Spice


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Writing A Clean Bake (The Writing Process Blog Tour)

Photos from Instagram

I don't usually do personal or behind the scenes posts (unless you count the occasional travel post), but this one was such a cool idea, I couldn't pass it up. I hope you don't mind...

A Clean Bake is the latest stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour, which asks bloggers to share their experience of bringing a blog post to life. I was nominated by Mary Frances, who runs The Sweet Tooth Life (you may remember her from this recipe) to be the next blogger to answer a few questions about my personal process from brainstorm to blog post. Read on for the interview...

Photos from Instagram

What are you working on?
In the very specific sense, my current obsessions works-in-progress include two grain-free brownie recipes (perfectly fudgy and microwave single serve; since we're on the topic, which would you like to see first?), finding a way to duplicate this mind-blowing cookie (more on that soon, I hope), and overcoming my fear of pie. I also take requests, if there is anything in particular you would like to see made gluten- or grain-free.

In the slightly longer term, I am just trying to produce good quality content, use up what's in my pantry and freezer, and allow people with food allergies to enjoy food - especially baked goods, which are notoriously allergy-unfriendly - without feeling like second class citizens.

In the big picture, I have no idea. I have a full time job and, since I get a lot of my deadline- and expectation-meeting out of my system from nine to five, A Clean Bake is more of a creative outlet for me than a goal-oriented "job". I started blogging on a whim, and I promise myself with every post that as soon as it stops being fun, I will just walk away. Thankfully, it's still fun. I try not to put too much pressure on myself to do something other than what I am feeling passionate about, and my only goal is to produce good quality content that helps people eat better.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Although I didn't start out to be a "gluten-free" or "allergy-free" baking blog, over time it has become clear that that is the genre I would be classified into. That's cool. Except that the original concept of this blog was actually completely opposed to that genre. Well, sort of.

I started this because (if you've heard this saga before, feel free to skip ahead), after experiencing some health problems, I had to do some food elimination and experimentation that made it really hard to eat and nearly impossible to bake and have dessert, normally. I looked for alternatives, but since I didn't fit into a particular dietary "box" nothing was tailored to my needs. I realized that there had to be others in my shoes, who needed to clean up their diets, but may not be interested in going completely vegan or paleo. So, I ended up combining facets of several dietary trends to define what I consider clean, relatively healthy, and absolutely delicious food.

I think (hope) that my blog inspires people who want to live a healthier life and adopt a cleaner diet to take the plunge. It's not that hard, once you get the hang of it (and get a really nice bar of dark chocolate to keep you sane).

Why do you write what you do?
I used to have a way with words. When I was a kid, I wrote short stories and scripts for fun; as a high school and college student I excelled in liberal arts subjects and my writing muscles were finely sculpted. In my adult life, or at least recent years, my once-math-illiterate brain has been somewhat seduced by numbers and spreadsheets. In my master's program, students were rarely expected to write much more than three pages on their own; any more was to be done in groups. My writing muscles have atrophied. So much of what I write is just to write.

As for why I write what I do, my posts usually reflect a moment or experience in my life like a memory, a celebration, or sometimes just a craving.  The most important tenant of good writing, in my opinion, is to tell a story. Sometimes the story is about the context surrounding the dish, and sometimes it's just about the experience of making the dish itself. Despite the strong personal influence on content, I try to walk the very fine line between revealing enough of myself to make the prose relatable, and over-sharing to a degree that makes the audience cringe, or worse, stop caring about the recipe.

Sometimes the recipe comes with an interesting anectode or out-of-the-ordinary context, and in those cases, the story writes itself. But other times, it's challenging to figure out where to start. There is only so much one can say about a dessert, and sometimes after the pictures and the recipe are posted, I am at a loss as to what else needs to be elaborated. In the latter case, I typically, either consciously or subconsciously, start with the question of why I made the dish to begin with. Sometimes it's too boring to actually discuss -  like these candied lemon peels, which resulted from my newfound love of putting an entire peeled lemon, not just its juice, in my smoothies, and the subsequent guilt over just throwing away such beautiful, plump and flavorful peels every day. Not exactly edge-of-your-seat material here. - but whether or not the story of how the recipe came to be actually makes it into the post, it gives me a great jumping off point.

Ultimately, I strive with every post to let the recipe shine through, and to give the baker reading it confidence that yes, s/he can make this!

How does your writing process work?
My writing process starts with my baking process. As I cook, I pay attention to my thoughts and reactions, and not just the obvious ones like "add chocolate chips", which is my reaction to nearly everything I make (because what doesn't a big handful of chocolate chips not improve?). I make cryptic notes to myself on the recipe, 90% of which are completely useless later, but occasionally provide just the anchor I need to write the "story" of the dish. When I don't have a particular note to take my prompt from, I just start writing and, through a somewhat stream-of-consciousness-ish brain dump (and obviously a lot of editing later), the significance of the dish begins to emerge. Also, I've heard bloggers say that they start at the middle and come back to do the introduction and conclusion later, but I am strictly a start-to-finish writer.

I typically don't write about a recipe until at least 24 hours, and sometimes several days, after I made the recipe. That allows me to let the experience marinate in my mind, and sometimes the best insights come from not thinking something. At least in my brain.

If I'm being totally honest, most of my writing starts in the shower. Not literally, although my dad did give me a waterproof pen-and-notepad set once (thanks, Dad!), but I digress. My mind is usually juggling so much at any given time that I tend to see most clearly through the choas when I am not focused on any particular task or concern. So then I dash out of the shower and end up writing some cryptic notes that I have a 90% chance of not being able to comprehend by the time I actually sit down at the computer. (Obviously, I should probably have a better writing process.)

Most of the time, my writing starts with with the "hook": what is it about this recipe that makes it different from every other recipe on my site, and worth the reader's time to concern themselves with (and, hopefully, make!)? With the internet teeming with "healthy" or "skinny" or "lightened up" versions of every imaginable dish, I try not to rely on clickbait, but on clear and (sometimes) concise explanations of the benefits and unique qualities of the recipe. I also think, both when I am making a dish and when I am writing about it, about what the reader needs to know when making the recipe, and I try to put myself in their shoes and preemptively answer any questions they might have. Is it adaptable to be vegan? Can the yield be converted for a larger or smaller pan, or from a cake to cupcakes? Does that affect the baking time? Things like that. Lastly, I string it all together in a "story" that might not always be a continuous tale, but should be, at least, a flowing narrative.

I proofread and edit after I have written the article, and usually do it in preview format so I can see the whole post as a reader. I am kind of a stickler for spelling, grammar and punctuation (thanks again, Dad!) so I usually proofread many times before the post goes live. When I am finally satisfied, I schedule the post to go live, walk away and then spend an inexplicable amount of time between the time I scheduled it and the time the post goes live worrying that I missed something, and making a mad dash for my computer, only to find that I was two steps ahead of myself all along*.

*except when I do things like forget to include the chocolate chips in a recipe for deep dish chocolate chip cookie cake, in which case, thank you to the reader who pointed that out to me!

In the end, all I care about is that readers are entertained, engaged, and hopefully drooling (or at least smiling? I'll take smiling.) by the time they are finished reading.


Next Stops:

The best part about this series is that it grows exponentially because everyone nominates more bloggers. So, without further ado, I'll pass the baton to....

I hope you're not sick of me singing these ladies' praises yet, because I'm not prepared to stop anytime soon. If you're a longtime reader, and I mean back in the Buttercream Fanatic Stone Age long, you'll certainly remember their cheesecake prowess. Behind the camera/blog/oven, they are two wonderful, brilliant and hardworking as hell young women who somehow manage to balance classwork from top-tier colleges with running a beautiful, creative and professional-grade blog called Pass the Cocoa. And they are so sweet! Monica and I realized recently that we literally were down the street from each other, so we met up for lunch and had the best time! I can't tell you enough how impressed I am with this duo.

Allie is another blogger whose work constantly blows me away. She is a busy mom-of-two who, somehow, manages to find time to make the most creative, stunningly beautiful, and mouth-wateringly delicious desserts you could ever imagine. Everything about her work is immaculate, from the recipes to the presentation to the photographs. I want to grow up to be her. And she is the sweetest, friendliest, and (somehow, because she has every right to brag!) most humble person you'll ever meet. I absolutely can't wait for her to share the process behind her gorgeous posts and hilarious, approachable writing style.

If you're not already familiar with Cooking & Beer, thank goodness you are reading this. Justine creates some of the most wonderful food: it is all at once sophisticated yet comforting; complex yet accessible. I look forward not just to her writing and recipes, but to her beautiful, vibrant photos that make the food practically sing! And, as though that isn't enough, if you are a beer-lover, this is the site for you. Justine pairs each dish with a carefully-selected, totally amazing craft beer. I don't know where she finds some of these picks, but they all look so appealing (and I don't even typically like beer) that it is hard to resist. (And let's not forget Zack, the other half of Cooking & Beer, who works behind the scenes to make sure readers have the best site experience possible!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Grain-Free Birthday Cake Muffins

Grain-Free Birthday Cake Muffins (Gluten Free, Paleo, Sugar Free)

The best surprise about blogging - other than the fact that somebody actually reads this - has been the community. Maybe I've said this before, but I really can't say it enough. In a world that seems like it would be horribly, high-school-ishly shallow and competitive, there is no shortage of encouraging words, positive reinforcement, and and gotyerbackism, a word that I just made up, but which should definitely exist because these ladies, they got yer back.

It's amazing to find a community of people who get you, get a side of you that most people in your daily life just don't totally understand. I may be a lunatic obsessive baker with a cat for a sous chef, but at least I have a circle of friends that I can talk to who are right there with me (the cat is optional).

One of these wonderful, equally baking-obsessed, terribly dedicated women is Meriem. Her site, Culinary Couture, is one that I was an avid reader of for a long time before Meriem and I became friends. We have a running email exchange, and this girl...she has my back. And I have hers. Because it's her birthday and it's Ramadan, a time of fasting, fellowship and prayer, so she is focused on so many other things right now and blogging is right where it should be: a last priority.

Just because it's Ramadan and she is fasting during the day, that doesn't mean she shouldn't have one hell of a birthday treat after the sun goes down. These muffins were made just for Meriem: they are are fun, sweet and celebratory, but at the same time full of healthy fat and fiber because the last thing you need after a day of fasting is a sugar high.

For the same reason, these are perfect for breakfast. They are grain-free and sugar-free, and full of healthy fat from the almond flour and fiber from coconut flour, flavored with vanilla for a cake-like flavor, sweetened by honey and dressed up with sprinkles. Totally worth getting out of bed for!

Have I convinced you? Great! You can find the recipe on Meriem's site, Culinary Couture!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vegan 2-Ingredient Scallion Cream Cheese (Soy-Free)

....No, the 2 ingredients aren't "scallions" and "cream cheese". Well, one ingredient is scallions. Let's back up: on Tuesday, I gave you bagels, and promised you "cream" "cheese" (I promise to stop using quotes now). And I am staying true to my word!

This wasn't planned, by any means. It came about from a particularly-first-world bout of self pity in which I whined to myself about so many bagels and no cream cheese. Wah. I'll pause for your eye rolls. Go ahead.

Anyway, it turns out that one need not have cream or cheese or even cream cheese to have cream cheese on your gluten-free bagel. All you need is cashews! And water and salt and, optionally, scallions. It could not be simpler: Soak your cashews (raw, unsalted is best) in water for an hour and then puree until smooth. Add salt and scallions, stir, and eat. By the spoonful is best.

Vegan 2-Ingredient Scallion Cream Cheese

  • 1 cup raw unsalted whole cashews
  • Pinch salt (optional)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (or to taste)
  1. Cover the cashews with enough hot water to fully submerse them and allow to soak for at least an hour, or overnight.
  2. Put soaked nuts in a food processor or Magic Bullet. Add just enough of the soaking liquid to keep the nuts moving, and puree until smooth, or to your preferred consistency (adding more water as necessary). I actually left mine a little chunky because I like the texture. 
  3. Transfer puree to a small mixing bowl, and stir in salt (if using) and scallions. 
  4. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Yield: Approximately 1 cup

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Montreal-Style Gluten Free Bagels

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Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

Oh, bagel. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Actually, never mind, let me just eat you instead. Sorry, bagel.

I'm fairly confident in saying that bagels have been one of the foods I have missed the most since being forced to eat differently, and since that time I cheated and had one in Montreal, I was reminded what I've been missing. In high school, I was the Bagel Queen. I mean, granted, that wasn't an official title, but what else do you call someone who wasn't homecoming queen but ate a bagel for breakfast and lunch every day for nearly four years? Let's not even talk about the degree of bagel consumption that I engaged in when I lived in New York. Let's just say I lived about 3 blocks away from the hands-down winner of this list (but that was before it was cool, obviously). 

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

Before Montreal, I hadn't had a bagel in about a year. Talk about cold turkey. I came home with the shakes just dying for another one of those thin, chewy rings of goodness, but struck out several times at attempting to recreate them and almost gave up. Certain foods simply NEED gluten, or so I thought before I discovered millet flour, which performs so eerily similarly to wheat that it is hard to believe it is actually gluten-free. Although these will never fool anyone into thinking they are a genuine wheat-y bagel, they come pretty close. How, you ask? Let's break it down:

First, you have to use the right combination of flours. In this case, I like millet and tapioca flours (note that tapioca flour is sometimes labeled "tapioca starch") because - as I said - millet gives the dough - both raw and baked - a very wheat-like texture and mouth feel, and tapioca because is not as grainy and gritty as, say, rice flour and it also helps to give the bagel just a slight golden hue that you usually don't get with gluten-free baked goods. On that note, here's a little trick I have learned: if you want even more golden color, skip the boiling stage and instead, brush or spray the risen bagels with oil just before baking. I didn't do that for this batch - these are boiled - but it worked great on another batch I tested.

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

Sorry to make you buy new flours, but I tried this with the old standbys of oat and rice flour and it just wasn't...right. If you want something using those flours instead, check out a full list here.

Next, we have to worry about moisture and binding, since as we know, gluten-free baked goods are notoriously difficult to keep moist. These bagels require water and an egg, the latter of which provides both moisture (yolk), binding (white) and texture (white). 

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

And finally, using the right yeast here is absolutely essential. By "right" I mean "viable". Yeast starts to lose its potency over time and eventually dies, so make sure you do not skip the first step of the recipe which "wakes up" the yeast, prepping it for action in the dough, and really making sure that your yeast is still alive and kicking so that you don't end up with dense, brick-in-your-stomach bagels. In order to extend its life, try keeping yours in the freezer. If you do that, be aware that it takes a little longer to "wake up" than if it were kept in the fridge, but once I put that warm water (about 110F) and sugar or honey in the bowl with it, I just walk away and don't touch it for about 5 minutes. When I return, it has a huge "head", like a badly-poured pint, and that's how you know it is still good. If there is no froth after 5 minutes, throw away your yeast and buy new stuff before continuing with the recipe.

Wait, wait, wait, how could I forget the actual most important thing? The cream cheese! Well, in this case, more like "cream" "cheese", because it is neither, but still surprisingly, mysteriously ends up tasting like what you would expect from a block of Philadelphia. But one thing at a time, and today that thing is bagels. Don't worry, though, I won't keep you in suspense for too long! Check back on Thursday for my new favorite cream cheese, which is vegan, gluten free and requires only 2 ingredients! 

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

"Montreal-Style" Gluten-Free Bagels
Print this

  • 2  teaspoons of active yeast
  • 3 teaspoons granulated sugar or honey, divided (I used honey)
  • 1/4 cup very warm water (Approximately 110 degrees F) + 1/2 cup room temperature water + more if necessary
  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 1/2 Tablespoons millet flour
  • 1/4 cup + 1 1/2 Tablespoon tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons psyllium husk powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Sesame seeds, or other garnish (optional)
  • Nonstick spray or canola, coconut, or other flavorless oil (optional)
  1. In a small bowl, cover the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar or honey with 1/4 cup very warm water. Gently stir, then set in a warm area of the kitchen and do not touch for 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together the millet flour, tapioca starch, psyllium and salt. 
  3. When the yeast is ready (has a very thick foamy head on it), add the entire contents of the bowl, plus the beaten egg, 2 teaspoons honey and remaining 1/2 cup water, to the mixer bowl and mix on low speed to combine. Then turn up the speed to continue to incorporate everything together. It will be very soupy at first; keep mixing until the dough comes together in a tight, if sticky, ball. If it is too dry to hold together, keep adding more water, about 1 Tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the proper consistency. 
  4. Transfer the dough to a cutting board and knead with your hands a few time to make sure the ingredients are all completely incorporated. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Roll each portion into a thick snake and loop it back to form a bagel shape. If you want a Montreal-style thin bagel, make your dough snake about 10". If you want a fatter, New York-style bagel, go for a shorter, fatter snake shape. Press the two ends firmly together to adhere. If the dough sticks to the board too badly, coat the board with a thin layer of cornmeal. It also helps to have slightly moist hands when rolling to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands too much. 
  5. Arrange the 6 bagels on a large baking sheet covered with parchment or a nonstick pad, leaving as much room between them as possible. 
  6. Sprinkle your sesame seeds or other garnish of choice on top of each bagel, pressing them in very gently to adhere. 
  7. Preheat the oven to warm and as soon as it is preheated, put the tray of bagels in as quickly as possible to avoid letting the heat out. Turn off the oven immediately. The residual heat will be just enough for the yeast to thrive in. Allow the bagels to rise for 30 minutes until swollen. They won't get as large as wheat or even oat flour dough so no need to rise for more time. They will just dry out.
  8. Remove the bagels from the oven and preheat it to 450F. 
  9. Optional: Bring a stock pot of water to a boil, and boil each bagel for 5-10 seconds on each side, immediately before baking. Alternately, you may brush or spray the tops of each of the bagels with oil, which will help them brown and crisp up in the oven.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
  12. If not serving immediately, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. 
Yield: 6 bagels

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Taste of Montreal

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks, between a a road trip to Iowa, Colorado and Nebraska a couple weeks ago and a trip to Montreal last month. Montreal is a city I have wanted to visit for many years, and it's such a quick flight that I am not sure why we didn't go sooner. But hey, better late than never.

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

The trip was over Memorial Day weekend, in honor of Bryan's birthday and also secretly in honor of my fleeting ability to speak French and desire to stumble through some basic phrases for a weekend if for no other reason than to reassure myself that I still "got it". No matter why we were there, it was an amazing weekend in a wonderful city. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

The architecture was very Parisian, especially in the Old City, but the city was not as dense and serpentine as Ol' Pareeeeee, so was much easier to navigate. Also, all Montreal citizens are bilingual and their English is perfect, so communication was much easier than it is in France. Oh, also, the weather cooperated for the only full day we were there - hooray! And merci, Canada. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

The centerpiece of the Old City is the gothic Notre Dame Cathedral which looked eerily similar to the Parisian equivalent, although a little less ornate. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Entering the Cathedral:

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Inside the Cathedral: 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

And, coincidentally, they were filming a movie just outside the Cathedral, so we got to lurk and gawk, er sit and watch, for awhile. There were tons of extras walking around in full-on 60s outfits, but the most fun things to see were the "antique" cars and Vespas. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

We walked around for several hours every day, and, of course, all this walking meant we were in need of lots of fuel. We ate well, although a few meals were less than stellar, and had a chance to try Poutine (fries covered with gravy, cheese curds, and usually other toppings), some local beers, maple everything, and of course.....

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from


I have heard and read the raves, but I am not a big fan of mass produced doughnuts and fast food coffee. While the doughnuts weren't bad (in a blind taste test, I couldn't distinguish between a Tim Horton's doughnut and one from Dunkin' if my life depended on it, though), but the coffee was actually spectacular. I drank it black and it was delicious. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Our hotel was in the tourist-y Old Montreal neighborhood, but we hopped on the subway and headed up to a neighborhood near McGill University, which had much more interesting independent shops and restaurants, including an amazing vegan restaurant called Aux Vivres. In a meat-and-potatoes town (actually country), this was a really big deal, and I never would have believed that it was worth a shot except that Davida recommended it, and I trust her judgement. She was 110% right.

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Aux Vivres introduced me to the wonderful concept of a Buddha Bowl, which contained brown rice layered with all sorts of fresh veggies like beets, carrots and sprouts, plus baked tofu and an incredible "honey" mustard dressing. I could eat this dish every day and never get sick of it (sorry for the crappy picture; we were sitting in a dark corner of the restaurant).  

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Then, it was off to fulfill the real purpose for the trip: Bagel tasting. Ever since I heard about the famous Montreal style of bagel-making, I have been dying to try one. There are two bakeries whose products compete for the title of best bagel in town, and Fairmount Bagel was, frankly, the most convenient. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Unlike New York bagels, Montreal bagels are fired in a pizza-style oven that must be a billion degrees. The man making them (who, I think, is the same person as the guy who was pictured in the New York Times; presumably they have more than one guy making bagels, but he must be the top dog!) lines them up on a long, thin board and slides them into the oven, then retrieves them with the same board a few minutes later and flips them dramatically over his head into the orange bin to his left. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

The result is a thin, chewy bagel with a tough rubbery (in a good way) exterior skin. Compared to the thick, doughy monsters in New York, this one seemed small and dainty, and it was a little sweeter than its New York equivalent. But it was truly delicious, and much better as a side with breakfast than the massive New York bagels that are a meal in and of themselves. I just don't understand how Canadians can make a sandwich out of these (which I did see on a couple menus).

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from

Anyway, no complaints here. I ate it, gluten and all, and it was SO worth the stomachache. Aside from it being a fun getaway in a beautiful city, the trip reminded me how much I miss a good bagel. So, I decided this must be remedied, at long last! I have been working on a gluten-free bagel and it is finally ready to share. Stop by next week for the recipe!

In the meantime, tell me about your recent or summer travel plans. Going anywhere fun?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How To: Make Candied Lemon Peels (and Lemon Simple Syrup)

Don't you love candied citrus? I know I do. Citrus and summer go together like peanut butter and chocolate so there is no better time to make these bright, sweet and tart little candies. 

Don't be intimidated by the concept of candying. There are NO candy thermometers or cooked sugar here. This recipe could not be easier!

 It starts with cleaned and sliced lemon peel. If you don't like lemon, you can easily substitute orange or grapefruit peel. Make sure you have removed all of the lemon (or orange or grapefruit) meat from the inside of the peel, then quickly boil the peels in plain water until tender before a long boil in sugared or honeyed water. The peel dries for a long time before it is ready to eat (and, optionally, coat with sugar, and optionally still, dunk in a layer of chocolate, both of which steps that I skipped), so while this recipe is a bit time-consuming, it's insanely hands off. And, like I said, no candy thermometer required!

As though a big pan full of candied lemon peels isn't enough, you get a bonus batch of lemon simple syrup out of the deal too. Simple syrup is nothing more than sugar (or honey) dissolved in water and reduced. It is an absolutely fantastic addition to summer cocktails, alcoholic or non. One of the best drinks I have had recently was a cherry spritzer made from combining sour cherry juice and this simple syrup with sparkling water. It's so refreshing, especially garnished with one of these chewy, zingy candied lemon peels!

Candied Lemon Peel (And Lemon Simple Syrup)

  • Peel of 4-5 large lemons, meat removed, thinly sliced
  • Tap water
  • 2 cups honey or sugar, or 1 cup each (I used honey)
  • Granulated sugar for garnish (optional)
  • Melted dark chocolate for dipping (optional)
Cooking Directions
  1. In a stockpot that fits the prepared peels with room to spare, cover the peels with tap water and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes before draining. Return the peels to the pot and repeat. 
  2. After the second boil, put the cooked peels in a bowl and set aside. Put the sugar or honey (or both) plus an additional 2 cups of water into the pot, stir briefly, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar/honey into the water, then add lemon peels. 
  3. Boil for 1 hour until the water is thick and has reduced to below the level of the lemon peels and the peels are translucent. Turn off the heat and let the peels cool completely in the pot with the liquid, with the top off. 
  4. Once the peels and cooking liquid have cooled completely, strain the peels, reserving the liquid in a separate container. Place a cooling rack over a cookie sheet or cutting board covered with wax paper or a nonstick pad. Spread the peels evenly across the rack and set aside in a cool, dry place to cool completely for about 24 hours, or dry for about 3 hours before pressing gently into a bowl of granulated sugar to coat. 
  5. Once the peels are completely dry, or have been thoroughly coated with sugar, dunk halfway in melted chocolate and place back on the drying rack until the chocolate solidifies (optional). 
  6. Store peels and simple syrup separately in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Yield: about 3 cups lemon peels and 1 cup (give or take) simple syrup

(1) If you use honey, it is normal that your peels will not ever completely "dry". I dried mine for 24 hours, and they remain moist and sticky in spite of it. Don't get me wrong; they're delicious, but you will be more likely to need a napkin after eating them!
(2) Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart