Monday, December 20, 2010

Bûche de Noël

I found this recipe many years ago - in the early 1990s I believe, in a Good Housekeeping magazine. It's become a tradition around here - usually for Christmas Eve. This year, since we'll be celebrating with our family on Boxing Day, the 26th of December, I'll serve it then.

It freezes very well and is not at all difficult to make. The icing is a cooked one, made with flour, sugar and butter, and not overly sweet - a good thing around this time of year.

Bûche de Noël

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
5 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 inch jelly roll pan. Line it with waxed paper and lightly grease the paper. Dust with a little extra cocoa powder.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder and spices. Sift together. 

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 cup sugar until thick and lemon coloured. Fold the whites into the yolks. Fold in the flour mixture, and lastly, the melted butter. Spread in prepared jelly roll pan. 

Bake 10 minutes. Turn out onto a tea towel that has been dusted with icing sugar. Peel off the waxed paper. Roll the hot cake up with the tea towel. Cool.

Prepare the Brandied Butter Cream. 

Brandied Butter Cream

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 square semisweet chocolate
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter
2 Tablespoons brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir together the sugar and flour. Whisk in the milk. Cook over low heat until thickened and bubbly, whisking constantly. (I do this in the microwave to prevent burning.) Cool completely. Melt the chocolate and set aside.

In large mixing bowl beat the butter until fluffy. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the brandy and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Spoon 1/2 of the mixture into a separate bowl. Use it to fill the cake roll. To the other 1/2 of icing, add the melted chocolate. Use it to ice the cake roll. 

To fill and ice: Unroll the cooled cake. Spread the white icing over the cake surface. Reroll. Cut off one end of the cake roll at an angle and place it against the remaining roll to resemble a tree branch. Cover the cake roll with the chocolate icing, leaving the ends uncovered. To create the bark effect, draw a fork through the icing.

Decorate with holly. Slice to serve. It can be frozen, then well wrapped until needed. 

Buche De Noel on FoodistaBuche De Noel

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Toasted Almond Chip Balls

My husband is one of the fortunate ones who hasn't gained a pound in over 30 years. And I do feed him well. But he has cookies everyday, so I bake year round. At Christmas I bring out special recipes, like this one. It's called Toasted Almond Chip Balls, but we call it Mary's grandmother's cookies because a friend of ours gave it to us and said it was from her grandmother. Whatever the name, they are delicious. And easy. And they keep well in the freezer.

They have a shortbread-ish texture and melt in your mouth. Toasting the almonds brings out their flavor. Two or three of these are delectable with a cup of tea. 

Toasted Almond Chip Balls

2 cups flour
1 cup chocolate chips, chopped (or use mini chocolate chips)
1 cup chopped toasted almonds (toast for 8-10 minutes at 350 - then cool)
1 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup white sugar
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and knead well. Use two hands. It's lovely and therapeutic, and would work well with children, too.

Form into 1 inch balls. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Roll immediately in sifted icing sugar, then place on a rack (or brown paper) to cool.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Crostini 1 and 2, Avocado Salsa in Endive Leaves

This is the time of year when I like to have easy snack foods available for company and for cozy movie nights. I'm an appetizer fan - the perfect meal for me is a collection of tasty bits on my plate. But I like them to be made from real food, not packaged things full of preservatives and chemicals.

I made these for the baby shower a few weeks ago and everyone seemed to like them. They hardly need recipes, but here's an explanation.

Crostini 1

Slice a baguette and brush each side with olive oil, then toast each side in the oven for a few minutes under the broiler until golden. Watch carefully - I've burned my fair share of these. Then spread some pesto on the bread and top with 1-2 teaspoons of fresh goat cheese, then a few shavings of rosemary ham (or whatever ham you like, prosciutto is good, too). Just before serving, bake for a few minutes to soften the cheese - 5 or 10 minutes at most, at 350 degrees.

Crostini 2

Prepare baguette slices as above, then top with tapenade. Make your own or buy it from a delicatessen. 
Serve as is, or top with a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese and run under the broiler.

There were crostini leftover from the shower and I decided to try freezing them. It worked better than I'd hoped. Just freeze them in a single layer then seal them well. To reheat, place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until thawed and heated through. 

Avocado Salsa in Endive

Low-carb, dairy and gluten free, healthy, fresh. It's like eating a bit of salad in your hand.

Dice an avocado (or two), a tomato (or three), some red onion (finely dice), a jalapeno pepper if you're feeling adventurous. Mix it all together with salt and pepper to taste, add the juice of one lemon and pile into endive leaves. 

Enjoy! and for my American readers and friends - have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kale with Garlic and Blue Cheese

Kale is one of those pretty vegetables, all curly and deep green. It's surprisingly versatile, but we like it best simply sautéed, with seasonings and a bit of cheese, then baked for a few minutes. It makes a nice accompaniment to almost any dish - tonight it was bacon wrapped chicken with a balsamic marmalade glaze. That recipe needs more tweaking before putting it on the blog. So for now, it's just the kale.

Kale with Garlic and Blue Cheese

1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the kale and toss until it wilts down. Reduce the heat if you find the kale sticking to the bottom of the pan. Sauté for 3-5 minutes or until almost tender and still bright green. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for another 3-5 minutes. The kale should be tender but still chewy. Salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the cheese will add additional salt.

Spoon the kale into a shallow gratin casserole. Sprinkle with the blue cheese and bake at 400 degrees for 5 - 10 minutes. The cheese should be melted and slightly browning.

This can be prepared ahead and kept in the fridge before baking. 

serves 2-3

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chanterelle Mushrooms with Cream

It's chanterelle mushroom season here on Vancouver Island. Cars and trucks parked alongside the highway in uninhabited locations usually mean that someone has entered the forest to find their secret location for mushrooms. These secrets are closely guarded. Mushroom picking can be a lucrative business.

I came by these chanterelles in a serendipitous encounter at the grocery store. You can read that story here. They were delicious, a bit of apricot flavor with a hint of pepper and meaty mushroomness. 

This is hardly a recipe - just a suggestion, but here goes.

Chanterelle mushrooms - I used the amount pictured above. Cleaning them took some time. I wiped them with a damp paper towel and picked all the pine needles and forest debris from them. Don't soak them in water unless very dirty, and then only briefly and just before cooking.

Heat 2 Tablespoons butter and 1 T olive oil in a frying pan until melted and hot, but not brown. Add the sliced mushrooms. Stir briefly, then let them cook over high heat. They will release a lot of liquid. Keep cooking them until the liquid is mostly evaporated. They will have shrunk considerably.

When the liquid is gone, pour in about 1/4 cup cream, and 2 cloves of garlic, minced. Stir and boil for 1-2 minutes until the cream thickens slightly. Just before serving, add a handful of chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Mmmmn. I served them over salmon fillet and they were delicious!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Double-Baked Zucchini Soufflés

I'm feeling a little under the weather today - achy, a bit of a sore throat, and a stuffy nose. Not bad enough to make me want to lie around all day, just a bit frail and wanting to be pampered. Souffles are good comfort food, with their light fluffy interiors and cheesy goodness, just perfect for making me feel better mentally, if not physically. 

This recipe is based on one from Laura Calder's French Food at Home. I think Laura Calder is my favourite cooking show host. She sashays around the kitchen in her pretty dresses and makes everything she cooks look simultaneously simple and marvelous. 

A double-baked soufflé is a way to salvage a soufflé that may have fallen. But even if it rises perfectly high and golden the way these did today, a little extra cream and cheese makes them even more wonderful. 

Double-baked Zucchini Soufflés

1 cup milk
1 bay leaf
3 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs, separated
1 cup pureed cooked zucchini (you could use leftovers, but I simmered one in a little water with two cloves of garlic, peeled, then drained the water off and mashed the zucchini - it wasn't perfectly smooth)
1 cup grated Havarti cheese
salt and pepper

1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 6 - 3/4 cup ramekins and dust with flour. Bring the milk to a simmer with the bay leaf. Let sit to infuse for 10 minutes or so.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook, while whisking for 1 minute. Remove the bay leaf from the milk and add the milk to the mixture, whisking until smooth over medium heat until it's thick. It won't take long because of the heated milk. 

Whisk the egg yolks together and add a bit of the flour-milk mixture to it, then pour the two mixtures together and whisk until smooth. Add the zucchini and cheese and stir together. Season with salt and pepper. You'll want it quite highly seasoned.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the vegetable mixture. Fill the ramekins. Set in a baking dish and carefully pour around boiling water to come 2/3 up the sides. Bake until puffed up and golden brown on top. The center will still be slightly soft. It should take about 15 - 20 minutes. 

Remove the soufflés from the water. Let cool for a few minutes. They will fall slightly. Gently remove them from the ramekins and place, golden side up, in a baking dish. Pour the cream gently around the soufflés, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

This can be done ahead and when ready to serve, place in a hot oven (400 F) until the cream is bubbly and the soufflés are hot. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rosemary Roasted Butternut Squash

Of all the wonderful squashes in season just now, I think that butternut is my favourite. I only discovered it a few years ago. Why do I prefer it over other types of squash? Let me count the ways....

* the ratio of squash to seeds is very high
* the skin peels easily
*it has a firmer flesh than acorn squash 

Butternut squash, like other squashes, makes wonderful soup, is great on salads, plain roasted, can take a hit of sweetness but is equally delicious paired with a savory flavoring. Today's was fresh rosemary.

So simple: Trim the ends off a butternut squash so it sits flat on the cutting board. Slice the peel off with a sharp knife from top to bottom (cutting the squash in half helps when maneuvering the knife over the bumps and curves.)

Remove the seeds (using a melon baller works well.) Cut the squash into 3/4 inch cubes. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and a Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary.

Roast at 420 degrees for about 45 minutes or until tender and beginning to caramelize around the edges. Stir once or twice during cooking.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Apple Cake

During the summer months I avoid buying apples in favor of all the wonderful soft fruits available. But come fall, it's apple season! This cake is best eaten warm. I like it alone, the apple taste unadulterated. Others like a bit of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream with it. A puddle of crème anglaise wouldn't come amiss either.

One of the best things about this apple cake is how easily it comes together. The apples are not peeled, just thinly sliced. And there are a lot of them in the recipe so the apple-ness is pronounced. Mmm, perfect for autumn.

Apple Cake

4 cups diced unpeeled apples (I cut them into 8ths, then thinly slice them)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup nuts (walnuts are great, but any nut will do. Or none, as is the case in my household)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

Stir together the apples, sugar, oil and nuts. Lightly beat the eggs and combine with the vanilla. Add to the apple mixture. Stir together the dry ingredients, then add them to the apple mixture and stir to combine. There will be a lot of apples and little batter.
Scrape into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, then lower the temperature to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Twice-baked Sweet Potatoes, Brown Rice Pilaf

I've had some fun cooking challenges lately. For Myrna, a blogging friend whom I invited to dinner last week I planned a gluten, corn, soy and dairy free meal. It was easier than I thought. Potato splats, chicken with olives, capers and oranges, salad and a vegetable that I can't remember just now. For dessert, a coconut milk crème caramel. 

On Monday, friends from Victoria came for dinner. One of them is on a 21-day cleanse, which consisted basically of gluten-free vegan. She didn't make a big deal of it, and would have eaten whatever I'd cooked, but since I knew she was doing this, I decided to see how I could accommodate her. The result is in the above photo: Twice-baked Sweet Potatoes with a hint of heat from chipotle pepper and fresh ginger, a Brown Rice Pilaf, and Green Beans with Fresh Tomatoes cooked down with a little garlic and balsamic vinegar. 

I was very pleased with the blend of flavours and the satisfying quality of the meal. I would probably miss cheese more than meat, but trying out a new way of cooking was enjoyable. 

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 medium to large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With the tip of a knife, poke a few holes into each sweet potato. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, 45-70 minutes. Let cool until they can be handled.

While the potatoes are cooling, heat the 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Over low to medium heat sauté the onion until very tender, but not brown. Stir in the fresh ginger and chipotle powder.

Cut a thin slice from the top of each sweet potato. Gently scoop out the insides, leaving a thin shell against the skin. Lightly mash the sweet potato centers and stir in the onion mixture. Add 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, salt and the fresh lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt or lemon juice as wanted. The chipotle pepper powder tends to increase heat with time, so be judicious in adding more. 

Spoon the seasoned sweet potato mixture back into the shells. These can be prepared ahead to this point, then refrigerated. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the potatoes until hot through, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds to serve, if desired.

Brown Rice Pilaf

1 1/2 cup brown rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth for non-vegans)
2 scallions, sliced (use both the green and white parts)

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sauté the minced garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the rice. Stir until all the grains are coated with oil. Add the salt, lemon juice and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the rice is tender. Just before serving, stir in the sliced scallions. 

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Almond Crusted Chicken

This last week of September has been wonderfully sunny and warm. I'm not quite ready to prepare the heartier meals of fall, but summer fare seems tired and passé. Today's dinner was a blend of autumn and summer - lots of salad greens topped with roasted butternut squash and a tangy, winey, maple-flavoured cranberry onion dressing. To go with it, a simple chicken breast, coated with almonds and fresh herbs. 

It all came together remarkably well. I've begun cooking with pen and paper, usually a scrap of an envelope so that I can record what I do in the kitchen. I tend to cook, as I've said before, by grace, not law. 

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt

8 cups of mixed salad greens

Dressing (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and toss all together with your hands. Bake, stirring once for about 30 minutes or until the squash cubes are tender and lightly caramelized. Let cool slightly.

To assemble the salad, place two cups of mixed green on each of 4 plates. Top with some of the butternut squash cubes, then drizzle a generous spoonful or two of the dressing over top. Serve immediately.


1 small onion, finely minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in an open skillet. Add the onion and sauté until tender and slightly golden. Add the red wine and and chicken broth. Stir. Bring to a boil and allow to boil steadily at medium heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 its original volume. Add the rosemary, cranberries, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Season to taste. Let cool slightly.

Almond Crusted Chicken

4 chicken breasts, slightly pounded to flatten
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 cloves garlic
several stems of fresh parsley
several stems of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stems discarded
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Note:  2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour can be added to the coating mixture for more thorough covering. Cornstarch or almond flour could also be substituted. 

On a large cutting board, place the almonds, garlic, parsley and rosemary. Finely mince all together. Place in a pie dish or plate. Coat the chicken breasts with the mixture.

Heat the olive oil at medium heat until it begins to shimmer slightly. Gently lay the chicken breasts in the hot oil and cook until done, turning once. This will take 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.

Slice each chicken breast and place on plate alongside of salad. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Green Bean and Roasted Tomato Salad

Roasted tomatoes are one of the things I like to put in the freezer for soups and adding richness to winter fare. This morning, early, before the temperatures rose, I roasted a pan of tomatoes. I packaged most for the freezer, but saved back 10 juicy halves for this salad. The green beans are from my pitiful garden and the proportion of beans to tomatoes could certainly be altered.

Green Bean and Roasted Tomato Salad

10 roasted tomato halves (recipe here)
1 generous handful of green beans, topped and tailed, lightly cooked in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, then drained
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 shallot, minced (or use the white end of green onions)
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste, and maybe some fresh basil or oregano

Mix all ingredients gently, taking care not to break up the tomatoes too much. The tomatoes themselves have oil on them so no more oil is needed in the dressing.

Salmon Rice Salad

Last night my husband and I went out for dinner to the Creek Restaurant in French Creek. This was a belated anniversary celebration. We ordered a seafood platter for two. It came with Caesar Salads to start. They were on the small side, but that's okay because the platter was enormous. Four crab legs, four large breaded Fanny Bay oysters, a casserole of creamed shrimp and scallops, a salmon fillet and a piece of halibut. Plus vegetables, rice and two potato croquettes accompanied by flatbread. We didn't finish it all. Instead we brought home about half of the rice and the salmon. (Yes, we ate the rest.)

Today is blisteringly hot and I decided to make dinner this morning while the kitchen was cool. I flaked the salmon, added the rice and a few odds and ends. This will accompany a chilled zucchini soup and a roasted tomato and green bean salad for dinner. The amounts given below are enough to serve two, and I didn't measure anything, so you'll have to play with the ingredients. I didn't want a mayonnaise based salad, but something lighter. This is the result, and I'm pleased with it.

Salmon Rice Salad

1 large salmon fillet (you could poach one or use canned salmon)
1 cup cooked rice
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon mirin or cooking sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

That's it. Toss it lightly, taste and add more of whatever you think it needs. Chill and enjoy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rustic Beefsteak Tomato Tart

I've made this tomato tart twice in the past month. It's that good. Hearty and filling enough for a meal with just a green salad accompaniment. I like the free-form shape. Cheesy tomatoes, basil, black olives and capers - what a great combination!

It does take some time to make - the pastry must be done ahead, but it could lounge around for a couple of days in the fridge. The tomatoes need to drain for at least 45 minutes and I was surprised at the amount of water under the colander. Not draining them would result in a soggy tart. But don't let the steps deter you. They are easy enough and the result is fantastic. The recipe is from Fine Cooking (August/September 2006).


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (the original recipe called for all white flour, but I think the whole wheat adds to the rusticity)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
11 Tablespoons (5 1/2 ounces) cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
5-6 Tablespoons water (I find Canadian flour always needs more liquid so I used 1 beaten egg plus the water)

NOTE: When I say Canadian flour, I mean as opposed to American or Ecuadorian flour. Someone told me once that our flour is made from harder wheat. I know that when we lived in Texas and in Ecuador, the amount of liquid in recipes was correct, but since returning to Canada I've always added more.

Combine the flour, cheese, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne in a food processor. Blend to combine. Add the butter all at once and pulse until the butter pieces are about the size of rice grains. Add the liquid while pulsing in short bursts just until the dough starts to come together. It might look crumbly but when pressed together it should compact. Turn out onto a clean work surface and gather with your hands into a rough ball. Place on a sheet of waxed paper and gently press into a flat disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.


1 1/2 pounds ripe beefsteak tomatoes
kosher salt
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 Tablespoons roughly chopped pitted black olives
12 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons capers, drained and patted dry, roughly chopped if large
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Core the tomatoes, then slice 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and stack them in a colander set over a bowl. Let drain for at least 45 minutes and up to 1 hour. (Longer doesn't hurt.) About every 15 minutes, turn the slices gently and tilt the colander to let the juices drain freely.


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment to fit a rimmed baking sheet. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm to become pliable, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the parchment lightly with flour. Set the dough on top and roll into a 14 inch round that's 1/8 inch thick.

Sprinkle two-thirds of the cheese over the center of the dough round, leaving a 2 inch wide band around the edges. Scatter half the olives and half the basil over the cheese. Arrange the tomato slices on top so they overlap slightly, making a solid layer. Sprinkle on the remaining basil and olives, the capers, and the rest of the cheese. Season with pepper and drizzle the olive oil over top.

Fold the edges of the pastry over the edge of the filling, pleating it as you go so it forms a neatly fitting round edge. Bake until the dough is lightly browned, turning the pan halfway through baking, about 40 minutes total. Let cool 15 - 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

I'm adding a link to Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum. Click on over for more wonderful and tasty ideas.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Chicken Thighs

This recipe came about because of what was in the fridge and on the counter. The fresh basil and diced fresh tomatoes seem more summery and light than cooked tomatoes. The bright flavour of the tomatoes and basil mingled well with the creamy mushroom sauce simmered with the chicken thighs. This was easy, and surprisingly good.

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt, pepper, dried herbs
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine, optional
1/2 cup chicken broth (increase the chicken broth if not using the wine)
2 Tablespoons cream
1 large tomato, cut into small cubes
handful of fresh basil leaves

Pat the chicken thighs dry and season them with salt, pepper and herbs. I used a Victorian Epicure pizza spice on mine, but a combination of oregano, thyme, and other Mediterranean herbs would work well.

Heat 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken thighs. Place them in the pan and leave them without turning or lifting until a good sear is obtained - 2-3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side. Remove from pan.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and when hot, saute the onions and mushrooms until soft. Add the minced garlic and saute for another 30 seconds or so. Don't let the garlic brown. Add the white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the lovely browned bits that give so much flavour. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

Return the chicken thighs to the skillet and cover. Simmer until tender, 20 - 30 minutes. Stir in the cream and taste for seasonings. Place in wide serving dish and sprinkle with fresh tomato and torn basil leaves.

I cooked up some pasta to go along with this - it was great for sopping up all those lovely juices.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blueberry Scones

Oooh, these were GOOD! Tender scones with hits of sweet blueberries and a hint of lemon in the glaze. A perfect Saturday morning breakfast with 3-minute eggs alongside.

The recipe is courtesy of Tyler Florence, found via Food Network. My only adaptation was to use about half of the glaze and exchange 1 cup of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour. My nod to making these a wee bit healthier. Also, I rarely use unsalted butter. It's just too pricey.

Blueberry Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour plus 1 cup all-purpose flour)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup heavy cream, plus a bit more for brushing the scones
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the butter and cut in with two knives or a pastry blender. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Add the blueberries. Fold everything together just to combine the wet and dry ingredients. Be gentle so as not to crush the blueberries or you will have very BLUE scones.

Pat the dough out onto a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 1 1/4 inch thick. Cut into squares, about 3 inches, then halve the squares to make triangles. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little cream. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool a bit before applying the glaze.

Lemon Glaze

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 lemon, zest finely grated
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine the lemon juice and icing sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Stir until smooth. Add the lemon zest and butter. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth, then drizzle over the scones. Let set a minute before serving. (if you can wait)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Basil Pesto

My little sundeck garden is flourishing. I came home from my trip and the basil looked like it had doubled in height and fullness. So, it's that time again...pesto. Mmmm. I do love the stuff. Fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes warm from the garden and some homemade bread - a perfect summer lunch.

I like to freeze this pesto in small containers. Once thawed I like to use it up fairly quickly. It's great for fresh flavour in the winter.

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed, stems removed, washed and dried
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons pine nuts (or almonds or walnuts)
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place the basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in a blender. Process until smooth. Add Parmesan and blend again.

Note:  3 Tablespoons of softened butter can be added at the end to make a spread. Spread it over French or Italian bread, then broil until bubbly. Delectable!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Salad

I do love roasted vegetables. This is sort of like a ratatouille, minus the tomatoes. It's full of sweetly caramelized onions, eggplant, zucchini and red pepper with a little bite from fresh garlic and lemon juice to add a bright flavour. It's great warm, cold or at room temperature. Adding some feta cheese would make this dish into a wonderful main course.
I used a recipe by Emeril Lagasse and tweaked it a bit.

Roasted Vegetable Salad

1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 zucchini, stems trimmed, cubed
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 medium yellow or white onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped basil

Preheat oven to 420 degrees F.
Prepare the eggplant, zucchini, red peppers and onion and place on two rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt.
Roast for about 20 - 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets, until the vegetables are tender and are beginning to caramelize in the corners. Remove from oven and let cool about 20 minutes.

Place vegetables in a large bowl and add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, parsley and basil. Toss lightly to combine.

Cherry Almond Gratins

I recently took Patricia Wells' The Provence Cookbook out of our local library. Oh my, I think this is a book to add to my permanent collection. Reading the recipes I wanted to make every single one. The book evokes the south of France and makes me want to go there NOW. Instead, I'll prepare Patricia's recipes and pretend I'm there.
Last summer I made a cherry clafoutis and loved it. These gratins are another way to serve cherries during their all too short season. This recipe is from The Provence Cookbook with a slight tweak - I used almonds in place of the hazelnuts in the recipe because that's what I had on hand.
The gratins are individual, making for a pretty presentation.

Cherry Almond Gratins (Mini-gratins aux cerises et aux amandes)

1 pound fresh cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
confectioner's sugar, for dusting the gratins

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter and sugar 6 individual gratin dishes and place on baking sheets.
Divide the cherries among the gratin dishes and set aside.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, combine the eggs and sugar, beating at the highest speed until thick and pale, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the almonds and whisk until well blended. Pour the batter over the cherries in the gratin dishes.
Place the baking sheets with the gratin dishes in the oven. Bake until firm and a deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Dust lightly with confectioners' sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Black Forest Cherry Sauce

Cherries and chocolate are a perfect match and they meld together beautifully in this sauce suitable for ice cream, brownies, or just spooning out of the jar. I've made this for a number of years when cherries are in season. It would make a nice addition to a gift basket. The recipe comes from the Bernardin Canning Booklet, and I've adapted it slightly.

Black Forest Cherry Sauce

3 1/2 cups pitted and coarsely chopped sweet cherries
1/3 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice
2 pouches (170 ml) Bernardin liquid pectin (other brands of liquid pectin also work)
1/4 cup Kirsch or cherry brandy (optional)

Sterilize 5 or 6 250 ml (8 oz) mason jars.  Boil snap lids for 5 minutes to soften sealing compound. Keep lids in hot water until ready to use.
Combine prepared cherries, cocoa powder, sugar and lemon juice in a large, deep stainless steel saucepan. Over high heat, bring mixture to a full rolling boil. Stirring constantly, boil hard 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Immediately stir in liquid pectin and kirsch, mixing well. To prevent floating fruit, stir slowly 3 minutes. Skim foam if there is any.
Ladle into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace at the top. Top with snap lids, and screws. Let sit undisturbed on the counter until cool. All the lids should pop and seal.

NOTE: I do not process jams and jellies in a hot water bath as is recommended by Bernardin. Please follow the directions found on the Bernardin site if you wish to process further.

Grilled Chicken, Red Pepper and Melon Salad

Ahhh, summer has arrived. And with it, summer eating. Sweet cantaloupe, creamy avocado, lightly charred red pepper and chicken combine with crisp lettuce and a citrus dressing for an easy summer dinner salad. The dressing can be made ahead and the rest of the salad comes together quickly.

Citrus Dressing:

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons minced red onion
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients and whisk to combine. Refrigerate until needed. This recipe makes more than what's needed for the salad, but keeps well and can be used on any salad.

Grilled Chicken, Red Pepper and Melon Salad (Serves 2)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup Citrus dressing (recipe above)
1 sweet red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1/2 cantaloupe melon, seeded, peeled and thinly sliced, then cut into chunks
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1/4 cup basil, chopped
2 -3 cups shredded romaine lettuce

Place the chicken breasts and red pepper quarters in a flat dish and pour over the Citrus Dressing. Let marinate for 20 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Discard marinade and grill chicken and red pepper over medium high heat until pepper is softened and lightly charred, and chicken is no longer pink inside. The red pepper will take about 6 minutes, longer for the chicken. Cut chicken and red pepper into bite-sized chunks.

To serve, pile lettuce on individual plates and top with melon, avocado chunks, chicken and red pepper. Drizzle dressing over top. Sprinkle with basil.
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Monday, July 5, 2010

Cheesy Eggs on Toast

My family knows that I prefer savoury things over sweets. Give me a hunk of cheese or a handful of potato chips over a cookie any day. This is especially true at breakfast time. Eating highly sweetened cereal, cinnamon buns, or even overly sweetened muffins doesn't sit well.

Several years ago one of my aunts traveled to Kenya to visit my cousin who was working there. She had these eggs for breakfast, shared them with us, and now I'm sharing them with you. Protein, whole grains, fresh produce are all included in this meal. And it can be made ahead and reheated so it's quick to go in the morning.

Cheesy Eggs on Toast (for 2, easily doubled or tripled)

3 eggs, hardboiled, peeled

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Whisk in the milk and salt, continuing to whisk over medium to medium high heat until the mixture thickens and bubbles. Add the cheese and stir until smooth. Season with the pepper to taste.

Coarsely chop the hardboiled eggs and add them to the sauce. Gently heat.

Serve over whole wheat toast, with sliced tomatoes on the side.

This sauce is basic and is easily altered by adding fresh or dried herbs to suit your taste. I suggest thyme, chives, or parsley. Some basil on the tomatoes would never be out of place.
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Broccoli Salad

I find that a lot of broccoli salads are so sweet they taste more like a crunchy green dessert. This one has a hint of sweetness from the cranberries, apples and apricots, but the dressing itself is a bit tangy and not too heavy.

6 cups bite-sized broccoli pieces (Use the stems, too. Peel them, and cut them into one-inch chunks, then slice or chop them to bite-size)
1 apple, cored and diced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup diced dried apricots
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds

Combine the above ingredients in a large bowl.

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon honey
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the dressing ingredients, then combine with the salad. This keeps for a few days in the fridge and I like it with a slice of fresh bread for lunch.

Chocolate Roll

Although this recipe has a triple hit of chocolate, it's still quite light and a good dessert to serve after a heavy dinner. (Or a light dinner, or as a snack). I made this recently for a weekend with our children. They all came up to visit at different times, some overlapped, and I wanted to have easy meals so I could just enjoy being with them.

Jelly rolls are kind of an old fashioned thing, but I think they are easy to make and delicious to eat. The ratio of cake to filling is evenly distributed and just about perfect! I've had people tell me that jelly rolls don't work for them, that they crack. The wonderful thing about them is that if they crack, it's usually at the inner part of the roll and that can easily be disguised and held together with filling. I like them because they can be made ahead and even frozen. So, without further ado, here's the recipe.

Chocolate Jelly Roll

3 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup water, room temperature
1 cup sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Grease the bottom and sides of a rimmed baking sheet (about 10 x 15 inches). Line the bottom with waxed paper, and grease that, too. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Beat the eggs until thick and lemon coloured. Gradually beat in the sugar. Blend in the water and the vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder. Mix into the egg and sugar mixture, stirring only until blended. Pour into the prepared pan and spread out evenly. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until top springs back when lightly pressed.

While the jelly roll bakes, spread a clean tea towel onto the counter. Sprinkle with icing sugar, about 1/4 cup. I place the icing sugar into a sieve then tap it gently while moving it over the tea towel to spread it evenly.

As soon as the jelly roll has finished baking turn it upside down onto the tea towel. Remove the waxed paper and then roll it up together WITH the tea towel. Let cool. When the roll has cooled completely, gently unroll it, spread it with the filling and reroll it, WITHOUT the tea towel. Place seamside down on a pretty serving tray, or slice into 3/4 inch thick slices, top with sauce and enjoy.

Chocolate Butter Cream Filling

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 oz (1 square) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz (1 square) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon rum (optional)

Combine the sugar and flour together, whisk in the milk. Cook until thickened, in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Mixture should bubble and boil. Stir constantly to avoid scorching. (note: a little sticking to the pan does not affect the taste - said from experience) Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Cool completely.
In mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add flour/milk mixture, the rum and vanilla, and beat well. As you beat it the mixture will become light and creamy. Spread onto jelly roll.

Chocolate Sauce

1/2 cup cream
1 cup chocolate chips

Place in a glass measuring cup and microwave about 1-2 minutes, or until the chips have melted. Stir together and voilà, the easiest sauce ever.

Fish Tostados

This is a combination of a couple of recipes I saw - beef tostados and fish tacos. I was looking for something a little different than just baked or pan-fried fish. This turned out okay, not great. I'd up the heat factor - maybe season the fish with a little chipotle powder or chili powder before frying. But, for what it's worth, this recipe is a start - one I think I'll be tweaking because we really enjoyed the concept and the mixture of flavours. Crunchy cabbage with a bit of heat, lightly sauteed onions, creamy avocado, a hint of tomato, and the creamy chipotle flavoured sauce combined quite nicely.

3-4 cups shredded white cabbage
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely minced
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper
1 pound of boneless white-fleshed fish fillets (I used basa)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, cut into thin wedges
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 tomato, diced
4 tortillas (I used wheat because that's what I had on hand, next time I'd plan on using corn tortillas)

Combine the sour cream, jalapeno pepper, lime juice and salt. Mix half of this mixture with the shredded cabbage. Set aside remaining sauce.

Heat 1 T of the oil, and saute the onion until tender crisp (you want some crunch left in it). Remove the onion and keep it warm.

Heat the remaining T of oil to medium high. Cut the fish fillets into strips, salt and pepper them, and quickly fry them. Don't let them touch in the pan, do them in batches if necessary. Remove and keep warm. I piled it on top of the onions.

Toast the tortilla under the broiler, or if you like, quickly fry it until crisp.

To assemble, layer on a plate--

Cabbage (3/4-1 cup)
fish and onion

Top it all with the remaining sauce and squeeze fresh lime juice over.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Chicken Avocado Salad with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

Now that spring is flirting with summer it's time for salad dinners. The real start of this salad is the roasted tomato and roasted garlic vinaigrette. It's thick and flavourful, more of a condiment than an actual dressing. And any leftovers are wonderful as a topping for crostini, or dipping pita bread, or any salad. It can be done ahead of time. I like it served at room temperature, so if you do make it ahead and store it in the refrigerator, take it out about 30 minutes before you want to serve it.

Roasted Tomato/Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

3 Roma tomatoes, quartered (cut out the stems)
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 T. Olive oil
salt and pepper
1 T. fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried)

Place the tomatoes and onions in a glass baking dish. Pour over the olive oil and generously salt and pepper it. Sprinkle on the thyme leaves. With your hands toss everything together gently.

1 head garlic
olive oil

Cut the top off the head of garlic to expose the tops of the cloves. Place on a small piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil on top. Bring up the foil to enclose tightly.

Place the glass baking pan with the tomatoes and the sealed garlic head in a 400 degree oven for 45 - 60 minutes. The tomatoes and onions should be beginning to caramelize around the edges. This is good and makes for wonderful flavour.

Let cool.

Unwrap the garlic head and squeeze the cloves into a blender. They are sticky, but oh, so good. Add the tomatoes and all their juices, scraping the bits of caramelization from the pan into the blender. Add

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Serve over a salad of lettuce, grilled chicken and sliced avocado. Yum!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Potato Splats

These delectable crunchy two-bite potatoes are positively addictive. Eating one is an impossibility. Besides their crispy, salty outside and slightly creamy inside deliciousness they have a couple of things going for them. One, they can be made ahead, mostly. Two, they go with just about anything - roast, steak, chicken, grilled meats, etc. Three, their flavour can be changed by whatever herb or spice your heart is craving.

The recipe is ridiculously easy. First, wash as many little potatoes as you think you'll need. Add another handful because a few will disappear in the kitchen before they even get to the table. You can use red or white potatoes - I've used Yukon Golds here.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan, add water to about half way up the pot, salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer covered, until just barely tender when poked with a knife.

Dump them into a colander, then onto a tea towel on your counter. While they are still hot, or at least very warm, fold up another tea towel and use it as a buffer for the heel of your hand to gently squash each potato. Feeling each potato give under the weight of your hand is very satisfying, but don't get too aggressive. Just break the skins and flatten them out a bit.

Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, then drizzle it liberally with olive oil. Gently place each potato splat on the oiled paper. Cover and chill up to 24 hours, or proceed immediately.

Preheat the oven to 420 degrees. Liberally drizzle the potatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and season as you like. Freshly ground black pepper, thyme, creative. Today I used smoked Spanish paprika. Slide the baking tray into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, remove from oven, turn each potato and return to the oven. Bake for another 10 or 15 minutes, depending on how crispy you would like them to be. That's it.

This little plateful is what wouldn't fit on my baking sheet today. The rest of them are in the fridge, resting comfortably until tomorrow's lunch. I baked up these last 7 splats and ate them all, not even offering one to my husband. He was busy anyway.