June 24, 2012

I have been reading Grace's Sweet Life (La Mia Vita Dolce) for awhile now, as she's a fellow London, Ontario blogger, so I was thrilled when Ulysses Press sent me a copy of her new cookbook "Grace's Sweet Life: Homemade Italian Desserts from Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Panna Cotta to Torte, Pizzelle, and Struffoli." Even the title is a litany of sweet Italian goodness and the book is no different.


Her blog is always full of stunning, dramatic dessert photos, so I was happy to see them in print and with great descriptions of Italian classic dessert recipes and techniques. The instructions are quite in-depth for some of the recipes and there is quite a lot of text for a cookbook, but better to have more instructions than less when it comes to baking.

The book is divided into different dessert categories, such as "Cakes and Cheesecakes," "Pies and Tarts," "Pastries and Fried Desserts" and although there aren't a lot of personal anecdotes or connections described with the recipes, I think the book is intended more as a reference for learning about Italian baking rather than a "storybook" cookbook.


I would definitely look to this book for making a stunning dessert for a party or special occasion, as most of the recipes are quite rich and decadent. It's not really something I would look to for everyday baking (as if I even used the term "everyday baking." By that I mean something on the healthier side I would eat during the week as a quick dessert).


I went to a party on the weekend where one of the hosts is gluten intolerant, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to make Grace's Amaretti cookies, "Amaretti Morbidi." The cookies are made with almond flour instead of all-purpose flour, so they are gluten-free. That doesn't mean they are lacking in flavour by any means though. They are also made with eggs, coated with icing sugar and decorated with a silver dragee. These cookies would be great for the holidays and I love how they are photographed in the book on top of a martini glass full of silver candies.


I made my own almond flour by grinding the almonds myself. The colour of the cookies were a bit different than the picture in the book as Grace mentions, the colour from using blanched almonds or store bought almond flour can vary. I think I must have used about $10 worth of almonds in this recipe, as it called for 4 1/2 cups, but it made about 3 dozen cookies.


I am also sometimes weary of recipes that call to separate the yolks and egg whites, as the few times I've made souffles, they haven't turned out right, but I managed to separate these fine and everything turned out to plan. I separated the eggs and mixed the ingredients together as per the instructions then let the dough chill in the fridge for a few hours.


I then formed the dough into small balls, coated them in icing sugar and placed a silver dragee lightly on top. I baked them for about 25 minutes at 325F.


They didn't turn out as pretty as the picture in the book, but for only having three ingredients they were extremely tasty and fairly simple to make.


The cookies were seemed to be a hit at the party--the silver candies added an elegant decoration for the occasion--and appreciated by the gluten-free crowd. I think I might make a pie this weekend for Canada Day, so I will also be trying Grace's tart shell recipe. There are many other amazing recipes in the book I would love to try, such as Italian peach cookies, custard tarts and vanilla bean rice pudding.

If you're like me and have certain go-to cookbooks for certain things (ex. bread, baking), I would highly recommend "Grace's Sweet Life" as your definitive Italian dessert resource. The pictures alone are worth flipping through and adding to your mental list of "food to daydream about eating."

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
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June 20, 2012

I had a harrowing experience with tofu when I was younger and didn't eat it for many years. On a class field trip to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), we were given samples of tofu during a Japanese-themed exhibit and I ended up getting violently ill afterwards. I don't know if it was actually the tofu or some random sickness, but I had a subconscious aversion to the spongy soy product for a long time. My mom tried serving it to me in spaghetti once instead of meatballs and I got very upset.


About a year ago I decided to try tofu again and I haven't stopped eating it since. I absolutely love it in stir fries, as a dairy and protein substitute and even grilled or baked in the oven. Admittedly, I actually ate a cold piece of tofu the other night as a snack (that's going a little far, I know). I have also been daydreaming of summer traveling and have been reading up on the amazing food in Southeast Asia, so I have been inspired by Asian recipes.

I had a container of spinach to use, so I decided to make some asian greens with tofu and rice. Who doesn't love some "sassy" spinach?


I usually use President's Choice sauces for stirfries, like their Sechwan sauce, but this time I wanted to make my own sauce from scratch. I used Goboroot's recipe for Goma Ae Sauce that calls for sugar, soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds and tahini (full recipe here). I toasted sesame seeds, then grinded them in my coffee bean grinder and added them to the sugar, soy sauce and tahini into a homemade dressing bottle.


I sliced the tofu into triangles and marinated the pieces in some of the sauce as well for some extra flavour before baking it in the oven for about 20 minutes. The tofu gets a little more on the spongy than crispy side when you bake it in the oven, as opposed to grilling or frying, but it tastes a lot more like a piece of "meat."


I steamed the spinach and added the sauce over the heat. I should have saved some roasted sesame seeds to sprinkle on top of the spinach for some extra crunch, but I used up all of the seeds in the grinder.


I usually only eat brown rice, but I had some white jasmine rice and added some extra creaminess to it with a spoonful of light coconut milk. I added the spinach and tofu and served with a little more sauce on top (not shown).


This is pretty much a variation of my go-to meal most nights: vegetables, sometimes tofu (or meat) and rice (or noodles). The next night I made a vegetable thai curry with the leftover coconut milk and some green thai curry paste.


Hopefully I'll be tasting a lot more thai curries soon, as I am in the midst of travel planning and getting excited about the possibility of visiting Southeast Asia this summer. I will likely be visiting quite a few countries there and may tack on a trip to visit family in the U.K afterward. It's going to be a busy summer!
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