Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Herbed Flatbread

It's time for more tzatziki (see previous post) seeing as I found a half eaten tub of plain yoghurt in the fridge. Things have been so hectic that I can't even remember what I bought, or opened, it for. How bad is that? I can't even remember last week. Perhaps I should get some more sleep...

The tzatziki is great, but it needs a partner to be awesome and I flipped through the June issue of MSL and came across this flatbread recipe which I thought looked lovely, and sounded like it would match perfectly with my tzatziki. On a side note, I challenged a Greek friend to a tzatziki cook-off because I think mine is so good. I will let you know how that turns out :)

The radishes are called Easter Radishes, and I presume from their pastels shades. They are not so subtle in taste though - these are some of the spiciest radishes I have eaten in a lng time. I wonder if spiciness is related to  freshness, because these radishes were only picked the day before. I bought them from Rainbow Heritage Garden at the Carp Famrers Market.

To be honest, I wasn't everly impressed with these flatbread when they came out of the oven. I mean they looked fantastic, but the texture was off. So I tried one the next day, and it was more cracker-like, and I devoured a couple more. I think they would keep well for up to a week in a sealed airtight container.

Herbed Flatbread
From MSL June 2010 issue

1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeasr
3 cups flour, plus extra for hands
2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg, whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
salt for sprinkling (I used Murray River Pink Salt)
1/4 cup fresh rosemary

Place water in a medium bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, oil, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and the sugar. Stir until dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead with floured hands until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces; cover with plastic wrap. Roll out 1 piece to roughly 4 by 10 inches on a lightly floured surface; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sea salt and herbs. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 4 pieces per sheet.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until crisp and golden, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool on sheets on a wire rack.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Happy Canada Day!

I know, Canada Day has passed us by once again, and really, where does the time go? It was 6 days ago and I don't even have a good excuse for not posting this earlier. I borrowed this idea from Maggie Patterson at I love Papercrafts, and just switched up the colours a bit. I took out the blue and subbed in black, and that's about as creative as it got. Actually, now that I look at the Summer Mini, it looks an awful lot like the one they have in the picture on page 28. Oops! I guess we share and share alike!

All supplies are from Stamping Up, and I used:

Cardstock: Real Red, Whisper White and Basic Black
Inks: Real Red and Basic Black
Stamp Set: Canada Day from the Summer Mini Catalogue(120042 Clearmount)
Embellishment: Silver Brads (use a paper piercer to make the initial hole)

I embossed the Maple Leaf with clear embossing powder and then handcut the maple leaf out. I only made 15 of these, so it didn't take too long! Yeah right! I used a circle punch on the side and studded it with a silver brad. The fireworks on the background were just stamped using Real Red ink on Real Red cardstock.

I like easy!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I took a trip to the Carp Farmers Market this past weekend and came across a wonderful sheep cheese maker, right here in our own backyard. Back Forty Artisan Cheese in Lanark County. He makes four styles of cheese with sheep milk and I picked the one that mostly resembles feta cheese, Flower Station. And, of course, it's delicious.

I am more of a cow milk fan, but I do like firm sheep cheese and soft goat cheese, and neither should taste too "sheepy" or too "goaty", but have a tang and an earthiness and delicate floral flavours.

When it's too hot to cook, I love to eat something really simple and I find that tzatziki - made with yoghurt and cucumbers provides a cooling effect in the onslaught of hot summer days that have just passed. I'm not complaining, mind you, I love the heat!

My tzatziki is a little different from a traditional Greek yoghurt dip, I am sure. The flavours are similar, texture is similar, but it's just so much better than the dip you can buy in the store. I'll admit, you do need a little time, as the yoghurt has to sit in a strainer overnight to get the best texture, but make sure you do it, it's so unbelievably good, you won't even recognise the texture as the yoghurt as it presses itself into something so thick and creamy. 

I like mine with grilled pita bread, warm off the grill. You could also serve with vegetables, or like my husband ate it tonight, scooped on top of his grilled chicken breast.

Makes about 2 cups
perfected over many many years, but now amazingly good with the addition of Flower Station

1 large container natural/plain yoghurt* (about 650g)
1/2 english cucumber, shredded on large holes of box grater
125g feta cheese (I used the wedge of Flower Station)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
salt & pepper

Scoop yoghurt into a paper towel lined fine sieve. Traditionalists would say to use cheesecloth, but as long as you have decent papertowels (not dollar store) you should be OK. It works for me. Place sieve over a deep bowl, cover entire thing and leave to drain in the refrigerator overnight. If you have never done this before, you will be amazed at how much liquid actually comes out.

The next day, shred the cucumber and place into a clean tea towel, and squeeze as hard as you can to remove all the liquid. When you think you've squeezed enough, just do one more squeeze to be sure.

Transfer yoghurt to a medium sized bowl, add squeezed cucumber and remaining ingredients. Mix well to combine and season generously. Serve chilled.

*I like to use the full fat versions, and to be honest I have never used a low fat yoghurt, but you could try it.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Chocolate Ripple Cake

Local strawberries - who can resist that sweet smell on this first day of summer? The fragrance is irresistable, they look perfect, I cannot possibly walk past and leave a pint behind. There is just no way.

I don't really know where my love affair with the strawberry began. I am sure it was in fake flavoured strawberry ice cream, isn't every girls dream to eat only the pink stripe of the neapolitan tub without any other colours touching it?

Growing up, I think we only used to have strawberries on special occasions, and if my memory serves me correctly, you could only buy strawberries in the summertime. That sounds wierd now, because you can get strawberrie all year round. It doesn't make sense, but I'm sure it was true.

And, summertime was planting a garden with my dad, and I am sure we had strawberries in there somewhere.

Strawberries, in my mind, go best with chocolate and whipped cream (hmm..they also pair with with a tall bubbly glass of champagne), and this is a childhood dessert that was made with a package of Arnotts Chocolate Ripple Biscuits and whipped cream. I thought I would try to make it better with homemade dark chocolate cookies, sweet strawberries and freshly whipped cream. Be prepared though, this "cake" has to work it's magic overnight in the refrigerator. You will be amazed that one recipe of cookies (or one package) can turn into something so delightful.

Chocolate Cookies
Makes 18-20, depending on size of scoop
Adapted slightly from Hersheys

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine butter and sugar in large bowl and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla, and continue mixing until creamy. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture.
Drop 1oz scoops onto parchment lined cookie sheets and bake 8-12 minutes, or until just set. Remove from oven, cool 2 minutes on sheets and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

While cookies are cooling, finely dice up half a pint of strawberries (as small as you can, otherwise cutting this cake will be difficult).

When cookies are completely cooled, whip up 3 cups whipping cream with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar until medium peaks form. Set aside.

To assemble: you are basically sticking the cookies together sandwiched with whipped cream and strawberries to form a log (using about 12 of the cookies you baked).
Take one cookie, spread with about 1 & 1.2 tablespoons whipped cream, add about 1 tablespoon chopped strawberries and then sandwich with another cookie. Set on plate.
To the back of one cookie, add more cream and strawberries and sandwich on a third cookie. Kepp doing this until the log is formed, and using leftover cream, cover the entire log.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. Refriegerate until ready to serve.

To serve: garnish with additional strawberries and then slice the cake on a diagonal to get the "striped" look.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Greek Salad

It's lunchtime on Sunday, my husband is away and I am left with the child who won't eat anything but butter chicken, rice, milk and oatmeal. There's no way I am cooking today, so I have a choice of Kraft Dinner (definitely OK in some instances) or toss together something from ingredients in my fridge/pantry, of which I am trying to do more of these days. I saw a television ad that suggested we throw away half of what we actually buy, and sometimes, I am one of those people. It's awful to think of, really. All that good food getting thrown away simply because I was too lazy to eat or cook it.

To my surprise we have everything in our fridge necessary for an amazing Greek Salad - tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives and peppers. And then I look further and I find half a red onion and some fresh dill. Oh my, it's a great day!

I am not really a salad eater. I can think of nothing less enjoyable than a bowl full of "grass". I know, it's not grass, but come on, it's close enough :) Now, give me a salad full of "stuff" and I will happily munch away - hence the liking for a big bowl of fresh Greek Salad.
Dill was never a favourite herb of mine until I had tried it in Greek Salad. I always associated it with seafood and I am not a big seafood eater either. You know, maybe I had been eating it for years without realising that it was in the salad, but I don't think so. It was definitely the addition of a cook who I was working with years ago, that put me onto this gem. All the Greeks out there, I'm apologising if dill isn't traditional, but try it, it tastes delicious.

Greek Salad
makes 2 serves (able to be doubled, tripled or multiplied many times)

12 grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 English cucmber, sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/4 red pepper, chopped
1/4 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
50g feta cheese, cubed

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch each salt & pepper

Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl, toss to combine.
Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl, pour over salad and gently toss. Check for seasoning and serve.
If you are making this salad the night before, I suggest you keep the salad and the dressing separate, and only toss about 1/2 an hour prior to serving. I like the salad ingredients crisp and fresh, and I find that if they sit in the dressing too long the tomatoes and cucumbers especially, become a bit mushy.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

French Toast with Blueberries & Lemon Curd

It's almost the weekend, it's so close I can taste it. I have just come to the end of the most crazy week ever at work. It feels like I have been running non-stop for two weeks, and Saturday is my saving grace. Come on Saturday...I need a rest!
Dreaming ahead, most likely to Sunday, this is one of my ultimate breakfasts, or brunches, as we never really get around to eating a "cooked" breakfast until 11-ish.
I want to say I used fresh bread, but it's really stale bread with fresh lemon curd and blueberries simmered with sugar and poured over.
I remember a breakfast like this, one Sunday morning in Balmain (suburb of Sydney), and an amazing woman sang while she played the bass guitar. Absolutely beautiful. The food and the music. We used to go out a lot...before kids.
So now we bring the café home - start with the curd, then dip the toast and start to fry, and as that's cooking do a quick-mix of the blueberries, you can have it all done in less than an hour and then tell everyone how you slaved away for hours while they all slept.
This is just a collection of extremely simple recipes brought together to create a delicious meal. If you have the time, prepare the curd and the blueberry syrup the day before. The lemon curd and blueberry syrup will keep for two weeks, tightly covered in the refrigerator. So start today, and be ready for next weekend at the cottage.
If only my husband could prepare this for me and bring it to me with steaming I am really dreaming!

Lemon Curd
Makes almost 2 cups
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion (my go-to for simple, but wonderful, recipes)

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2/3 cup white sugar
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, from 2-3 lemons
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a heatproof bowl over simmering water, combine the eggs, yolks, sugar, zest and juice and cook, stirring frequently until curd has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. It should only take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir through butter and pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove lumps.   
Pour into small bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of curd (to prevent skin from forming) and refrigerate until chilled.

Blueberry Syrup
Makes 2 serves
Made up on the fly - today!

3/4 cup blueberries. fresh or frozen
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water (extra)

Place blueberries, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, Cook, stirring, until blueberries have popped and sugar has dissolved. Simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Add cornstarch slurry and return to boil. Serve warm.

French Toast
Makes 2 serves - but easily doubled
Just a recipe I have used for years - not sure anymore where it came from, but if it's yours, let me know

3 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 pieces thick cut day-old bread
2 teaspoons butter

In large flat-bottomed bowl, combine the eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. 
Heat non-stick pan with half of butter over medium heat. When butter has melted, dip bread slices into egg mixture and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes each side. Repeat with remaining bread. If your pan is large enough, you can cook 2 slices at a time.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Apricot Almond Tart

Apricots just scream SUMMER! I don't know if it's official apricot season but these are in the stores now, looking ripe and luscious and ready to eat. I found my apricots at Farm Boy, but then all the best produce in Ottawa is to be found there. I don't even find it more expensive for produce there, and even when you think you're paying more, the quality always rises to the occasion.

I seem to be in pie / tart / pastry mood lately. I don't know why, I mean, I love to bake and to me showing off perfectly beautiful fruit or vegetables or bacon just seem to taste better to me wrapped in buttery pastry. And, pastry is not tricky to make, it's just about being respectful to the dough, whatever dough you are working with at the time. Work quickly, and keep it as chilled as possible. Most are pretty forgiving, the only one you have to surrender to is filo, but even after a while with some practice, you can master the filo dough.

This recipe is a touch "involved", so read through, give yourself some time and then enjoy the amazing results. My friend described the filling as almost a pecan pie type of filling, whereas I thought I had undercooked it at first. Oops!

Apricot Almond Tart
Makes one 8-inch tart
Only very very slightly adapted from Marta Stewart Living, June 2010 edition

3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons ground almonds, toasted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 large egg yolk
pinch salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light con syrup
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons amaretto (or other almond flavoured liqueur)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2lbs apricots, halved and pitted
icing sugar to dust
whipped cream, to serve

To make crust: Beat butter and icing sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add flour, ground almonds yolk and pinch of salt, mix until dough comes together. I admit, I added a splash of ice water here as I got impatient and I didn't want to overwork the dough. Press into the bottom and sides of an 8" fluted tart pan with removable base and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325F.

To make filling: heat butter in a saucepan over medium high heat until browned 3-4 minutes. There will be floaty bits in the butter - that's OK. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat yolks, corn syrup and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in browned butter (with floaty bits), amaretto, cream and vanilla. Mixture will be thick, but pourable. Mine was totally pourable, not really that thick at all.

Transfer tart shell onto a baking sheet. Pour in filling to reach halfway up the sides. Bake until crust is golden brown and crisp, and centre is set but slightly soft, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

When tart is cooled, working in a circle and pressing into the filling, top tart with apricot halves. Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Waffle Bowl Sundaes

Happy Sunday - it's time for Sundaes!
I definitely could not resist the urge to try the new PC waffle bowls - filled with chocolate ice cream, fresh berries and then topped of with chocolate ganache. A fun way to finish off the day, especially a hot one!

The waffle bowls are the perfect thickness, not too thick that they are difficult to eat, and not to thin that they break with the slightest touch. I love the way they come so carefully packaged too, all separated by corrugated card board so that none break during transport. I have to say I was pretty impressed to open the package and find nothing cracked or broken. Well done PC!

Obviously, you can fill the bowls with whatever you like, but I was thinking as an added touch you could dip the edges into melted chocolate (and maybe sprinkles) and leave them to set before filling with ice cream.

Chocolate Ganache
makes 1 cup - enough to top 4 waffle bowls of ice cream

125g bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup whipping cream

Melt chocolate in bowl set over simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth. Add cream and stir until blended. Cool slightly before pouring over ice cream, berries, cake, or whatever takes your fancy!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Bacon Onion Tart

Probably not the healthiest option for dinner, but extremely tasty and soul satisfying nonetheless. Bacon and onions are my husband's favourites, so when I saw this recipe I just knew I had to make it for him. It really is good. It's a little bit like a quiche base topped with ultimate ingredients. And paired with a salad, it really balances things out. Just like ordering a Big Mac and fries with a diet coke. You know, you have to feel good about something. I think the key, if you can help yourself, is to stick to one piece and not sit down and eat the whole thing, unlike me. 
You know, this would be great cut into 2" squares and served as an appetizer at your next gathering, just slightly warmed. Oh, and now I am re-reading the recipe, that's exactly what they say too!

Bacon Onion Tart
Makes 6 serves
Adapted very slightly from Food & Drink Magazine, Early Summer 2010 edition

1 pkg PC all-butter puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator overnight
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g double smoked bacon
8 cups sliced onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly pole to pole
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Open pastry from packages and join to make one big rectangle, ideally a similar size, or smaller, than your baking sheet. Using your fingers and a little water to moisten dough, fold over the edges of the dough by about 1/2". Makes pleats in the edge of the pastry where you have folded to make a 3/4" edge that stands up like a tart shell. Chill pastry while preparing filling.

Preheat oven to 375F (190C).

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and saute for one minutes or until fat is beginning to melt. Add onions, bay leaves and thyme, season with salt and saute for 10 to 20 minutes or until onions are a slightly golden tangled mass. 

Combine eggs, ricotta cheese and cream and season well with salt and pepper.

Remove pastry from refrigerator and pour in egg mixture to make a thin layer. Make sure your edges are standing up, because the mixture is quite thin and will leak very easily. Spread bacon and onions in an even layer over top. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is browned and filling is set. 


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Herb Grilled Chicken

Another super easy, super healthy, weeknight dinner, and perfect for these hot nights where I certainly do not want to heat up the house any more than need be. I basically marinated some chicken breasts in some chopped fresh herbs (see yesterday's post), lemon juice and olive oil and then grilled them. Alongside, I grilled fresh Ontario asparagus and served with a quick tomato cucumber salad with fresh parsley and the delicious Garlic Expressions classic vinaigrette from Farm Boy. I am addicted to this dressing. I hate salad greens with a passion, but I will eat them up like there is no tomorrow if this dressing is involved.

Again, if you are organised, dinner is ready for everyone in under 30 minutes.
Gotta love that when there's so much to get done in the garden!

Herb Grilled Chicken
Serves 2 (but easily doubled, or tripled)

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (can be any herbs, I used parsley, rosemary and thyme)
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice from 1 fresh lemon

Combine ingredients and marinate for as long as you have time. I did mine the night before and just kept covered in the refrigerator overnight. You can just dunk yours in for 5 minutes, if that's all the time you have.

Heat grill to medium high and cook chicken until done - it will take about 15-18 minutes, but double check with a thermometer that the internal temperature has reached a minimum of 165F for your own safety.

For the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add the asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender.

Serve with tomato cucumber salad - recipe follows.

Tomato Cucumber Salad
Serves 2 (can be doubled, tripled or multiplied many times over)

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 English cucumber, diced about the same size as the tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons Garlic Expressions garlic vinaigrette
ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quick Tomato Basil Pasta

The hot weather is here, and I am so excited. I cannot even tell you how much I adore the sunshine, the long hot days and even the debating whether it is too hot, or not hot enough, to turn on the AC. I know, but I hold off as long as it's comfortable to sleep. The hot days I can deal with, the hot nights...not so much.

Not sure if you know, we moved to a golf course community last year. It is wonderful, great neighbours, amazing house, great view over hole #3. What more could a girl ask for? Except the thought that I can't plant vegetables in the back yard anymore, I am just too nervous about all the "extras" the golf course may add to the greens to keep them that perfect colour all year long. I don't necessarily want to be eating anything that I shouldn't, know what I mean?

So, it's all container gardening from here on in, which isn't so bad as I was browsing the garden centre at Costco last week and I came across this gorgeous pot filled with oh-so-healthy looking herbs and I couldn't walk away. There is oodles of parsley, rosemary (my favourite), sage, basil and thyme as well as pansies, which I will use to throw in salads for colour, and garnish pretty desserts.

My first creation was the easy peasy pasta dish, basically some fresh pasta with sauteed Ontario asparagus and red peppers, a pinch of hot pepper flakes for punch and basic tomato sauce, which I make in big batches and then freeze in portions big enough for one meal. Toss in some fresh basil and you have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes - and who doesn't love that?

Tomato Basil Pasta
Makes enough for 4 serves

1lb fresh pasta, any shape
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
1/2 red pepper, chopped
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
2 cups tomato sauce, home made or bottled
handful fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
cracked black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to directions, drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in large pan. Add asparagus and peppers and cook quickly over med-high heat, almost a stir-fry. When asparagus is bright green, but still crisp, add red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more. Add tomato sauce and stir until bubbling.

Stir through cooked and drained pasta (while pasta is still hot), and stir over heat until sauce is bubbling. Off heat, stir through chopped basil and black pepper. 

Serve immediately.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Brown Sugar Strawberries

I am walking the produce section of the grocery store here in Ottawa, just peeking to see what they might have available this week, and as I am looking at the berries I notice these gorgeous strawberries for $1.99. I thought, what a bargain. I know it's early in the summer and you can get strawberries, but rock hard and white in the centers, and they are generally not priced that reasonably.

So, I take a step closer and then I realise that it's only half a pound, and I think to myself sucked in again by a big sign with a low price. But, they are called "brown sugar" strawberries, and really what could be a more delicious treat on this first long weekend that marks the beginning of summer?  Will they really be worth it, or will they let me down?

I took a chance, and I won! They are absolutely delicious. Not even a tinge of tartness. They are not perfectly red ripe through to the centre, but it doesn't matter. They taste so damn good and they are juicy, like crazy juicy that when you bite into one the juice almost drips onto your lip.

Do you know what is even better? They are all perfect - not a blemish to be found on any one of them. The stems are still green, and to top it right off, they lay on their own bed of bubble wrap. I love it.

It's official - I am in love with brown sugar strawberries....well, until local ones become available, that is!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

Happy May long weekend! I decided to try something which I considered a little trickier last week, seeing as this was a long weekend approaching, and I had a bit of time on my hands. I honestly thought that this would be difficult to make, but in fact it was just a lot of little easy steps that turn out into something so fabulous looking. And what else surprised me, is that I had everything in my pantry, so there are no special ingredients required.

Give yourself some time to make it though, I made the cake base one day and then the next day I finished it off with the mousses. So, I started it Thursday night after work and then finished it Friday night. It's now Sunday and I am still enjoying it, piece by piece. I am keeping it refrigerated.

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
From Cooks Illustrated (recipe the same, but with a different technique - my own notes are in italics)

Makes one 10" cake, serves 12-16

Bottom Layer
90g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
200g bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
pinch salt
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar, crumbled to remove lumps (this is an important step)

Middle Layer
2 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa powder, sifted
5 tablespoons hot water
200g bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 & 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Top Layer
3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon water
170g white chocolate (chips or chopped finely)
1 & 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

To make bottom layer:
Preheat oven to 325F. Butter bottom and sides of pan with 9.5" spring form pan (I had 10" so went with that and I also lined my base with parchment. The first time I made this cake I couldn't remove the cake from the base once it was cooked). Melt butter, chocolate and espresso powder in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan 1" with simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and cool mixture for 5 minutes. Whisk in vanilla and egg yolks.

In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at medium speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add half of brown sugar and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add remaining brown sugar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer, scraping down the sides halfway through. Using whisk, fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain. Carefully transfer batter to prepared spring form pan, gently smoothing top with offset spatula.

Bake until cake has risen, is firm around the edges, and center has just set but is still soft (center of cake will spring back after pressing gently with finger), 13 to 18 minutes. Transfer cake to wire rack to cool completely. Cake will collapse as it cools. Do not remove cake from pan as it cools. OK, so after it cooled, I did remove it from the pan (as well as remove the parchment) and placed it onto a cake board, then placed the ring part of the pan back around the cake, ready for the mousses. In my first trial run, after I had followed the recipe to a tee, I couldn't remove the base of the pan from the cake. It was fine because I was serving it to my friends and family - they LOVE all the rejects :) , but I really didn't want the base "leftover" as I cut away the cake. It's a personal choice for presentation. If you are not worried about this, then just follow the recipe - I guarantee it will be delicious!)

For the middle layer: Because I wanted a really sharp edge on my cake, I lined the ring with a strip of parchment paper. I found that using a small palette knife to loosen the cake gave a rough edge, the parchment just peeled away.

Combine cocoa powder with hot water in a small bowl; set aside. Melt the chocolate in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan with 1" simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip cream, white sugar and salt at medium speed until mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute.

Whisk cocoa powder mixture into melted chocolate until smooth. Using whisk, fold in one-third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Spoon mousse into spring form pan (if you removed the base, carefully smooth mousse over cake, holding ring part of pan centered over cake base, and pressing firmly to ensure no mousse escapes through the bottom) and tap gently on counter three times to remove any large air bubbles (be careful here if you have removed the base); gently smooth top with offset spatula. Wipe inside of pan to remove any drips. Refrigerate cake at least 15 minutes while preparing the top layer.

For the top layer: In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water, let stand at least 5 minutes. Place white chocolate in medium bowl. Bring 1/2 cup cream to simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat, add gelatin mixture and stir until fully dissolved. Pour cream mixture over white chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, 5 to 8 minutes (mixture will thicken slightly).

In clean bowl of stand mixture fitted with whisk attachment, whip remaining cup of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute more. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into white chocolate mixture to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold remaining whipped cream into white chocolate mixture until no white streaks remain. Spoon white chocolate mousse into pan over middle layer. Smooth top with an offset spatula. Return cake to refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2.5 hours.

To remove cake from pan, run knife around edges to loosen cake from pan, then release the ring and lift up. If you lined the ring with parchment, you can just release the ring and peel away the parchment.

Garnish cake before removing from the pan, so that none of your decoration runs down the sides - unless this is the look you are going for!  You could dust with cocoa powder or chocolate curls, I just striped (I am sure there's a technical name for this effect) chocolate ganache over the top - half melted chocolate half cream, melted and then leave to cool to desired thickness before "striping" in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip.

Oh, and use a hot clean knife to cut perfect slices. Cooks Illustrated recommends using a cheese wire, which sounds great, but I don't have any on hand - so I resorted to my trusty chefs knife.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blueberry Buttercream Cupcakes

Totally cheater cupcakes - I took a box of white cake mix, added whole eggs, lemon zest and fresh blueberries. But I did make the buttercream from scratch. So kinda half-homemade. But the thought is there, right? Actually, it's perfect for last minute entertaining, and I do like to use cheater recipes from time to time. Maybe I'll add more in here at a later date. I always had a dream to launch a site to make frozen dinners more appealing - I know, I dream BIG!

I don't know where I found the recipe for the buttercream icing (it was a cupcake blog, so if it's you, let me know and I will give you proper credit), but it comes together so quickly and easily, and tastes amazing.

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, at room temperature (nice and soft)
6-8 cups icing sugar, you could sift if yours is lumpy
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (or other flavour)
plus I added violet gel food colouring, but you could make yours whatever colour takes your fancy

Beat butter until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add half the icing sugar, milk and vanilla and beat slowly to incorporate. If you aren't careful you will end up with icing sugar dust everywhere. 
Gradually add the remaining icing sugar until you reach your desired consistency - thicker for icings that need to hold up in piping, and thinner for icings that will be smoothed on. Add colour and go!

This will ice 60 miniature cupcakes with the amount if icing I have in the picture above. You don't even have to keep it in your refrigerator if you plan to eat it within a couple of days (and you don't leave it in the sun).


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Marzipan Fruit

I have just completed a class on Almond Paste at Algonquin College, and honestly, for something I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy, I really surprised myself and loved it. And, yes, I actually made all of the fruit and vegetables in the photos by myself - with absolutely no previous experience (not even a day).

I really enjoy the way it makes me feel when I do something I don't think I will like and then it turns out that I want to start a new career! I mean, who couldn't love the perfect little specimen that were created with my own hands. It's crazy, I didn't want the class to end.

The only other time I felt like that was when I was at college studying Commercial Cookery and Butchery classes were looming. It wasn't that I didn't like meat, it was just that I thought how interesting could butchery, of all things, be? It turns out that I loved it too.

I think I enjoy things the most where I have the opportunity to learn something completely new. I absolutely love a challenge, and that love combined with my incessant strive for perfection leads to me to create these perfect little edibles.

And, just in case you can't tell, from left to right, there are red peppers, bananas, carrots, Granny Smith apple, bosc pear in the back, plum in the front, red delicious apple, grapes in the back, lemon in the front and then oranges at the far end.

Almond Paste
recipe from Karen Barr, Pastry Chef at Algonquin College
Makes 1.9kg (that makes a lot of fruit & vegetables - let me tell you! The fruit above weigh approx. 10g each)

910g almond paste (you can make your own, but commercial product is so much smoother)
120ml glucose* or light corn syrup

910g sifted icing sugar

Place the almond paste and the glucose, or corn syrup, into bowl of stand mixer. Using the hook attachment, mix at low speed until combined.
Start adding the sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Add enough sugar to make a fairly firm, yet workable dough. In class, we added half the sugar in the mixer, then added the rest by hand, by kneading it on a clean work surface. (It's a great workout.)

Wrap the marzipan in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. Store in a cool place until ready to use (not the refrigerator).

Colour small portions with water soluble food colouring or gel food colouring. The gel food colouring gives a more vibrant hue.

When rolling to form shapes, roll in icing sugar to keep from sticking.

*You can purchase glucose from Artistic Cake Design on Merivale Road.

Enjoy, and have fun!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The best Garlic Bread - ever!

There's a new baker in town and I am in love with their bread. Oh my GOD - it's GOOD! I can't even begin to describe my love affair with great bread. I have been known to drive all the way across town to pick up an Art-is-In baguette, and just have a taste on my way home in the car, and serioulsy, by the time I get home, it's gone. Now I buy two!
The same goes for driving through Kingston, I will always detour to Pan Chancho and buy multiple $6 loaves of bread. My poor husband is in disbelief every time we go that way that we have to stop, and that I'll pay so much just for bread. I think he secretly hopes that two hours into our drive I will be asleep just so we don't have to stop.
But, Art-is-In is not the new bakery I'm talking about, I am talking about fabulous bread baked here in Ottawa and delivered to hotels, restaurants and yes, the Produce Depot. It is just as good as Art-is-In, and I feel kind of sorry that there is such good competition out there for Keith Mathieson, but it's great for people like me who just cannot get enough great bread. You know, now that I think about it, I have no idea what this new baker calls himself. I will find out and let you know.
Obviously, I'd do no good on the no-carb lifestyle! So, just to top it all off, here is my recipe for killer garlic bread.


Garlic Bread
makes enough butter for one baguette, split lengthwise and spread on both sides

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened, at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise (yes, I said mayonnaise - I like Hellman's, and the full fat variety please)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 baguette

Mix it all together in a small bowl, excpet the bread, of course. It's important to have the butter at room temperature otherwise it won't mix in nicely with the mayonnaise. Trust me, I didn't think it would work either, but when you run out of always have mayo :)

Cut bread in half lengthwise and spread cut sides generously with the garlic butter. Heat broiler and cook, buttered side up on a baking sheet, for 3-4 minutes until the bread is all golden and bubbling and smelling delicious.

You can keep the butter, wrapped tightly, in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

That's it! Super simple and sooooooooo delicious. And, yes, I could eat the whole loaf, without a doubt :)