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).