A party in the mouth!

Thai Steak Salad and Japanese Style Cucumber-Seaweed Salad

My introduction to Thai cuisine took place when I was growing up in the Netherlands. My mouth starts to water just thinking about the first sip I took of Tom Kha Gai soup. It was a full on assualt on my tastebuds – salty, sour and sweet all hit different notes but played together in perfect harmony. Creamy coconut, spicy chili, citrusy lemon grass and green kaffir lime leaves brought the symphony to its climax. I was thoroughly disappointed when my spoon hit the bottom of the empty bowl. My disappoinment was short-lived as they soon brought out an array of dishes – Laab Moo, Green Curry, Massaman Curry and Pad Thai. It was a sensory overload – the smells, colours and flavours were as amazing to me then as they still are today. I get hit with massive cravings for the bright, intensely fresh flavours of Thai food more often than I should admit. Luckily it’s easy to create these flavour combinations at home – otherwise we’d have a hefty take-out bill on our hands!

Though I am an avid supporter of Thai curries, I often reach for my Thai salad recipes when the cravings strike. This steak salad is a regular around these parts. Seared steak gets bathed in a fragrant dressing of fresh lime juice, robust fish sauce, fiery chilis and garlic. Tossed together with crunchy sliced onions, chives and cilantro – this salad is one party in the mouth. I like to serve this with some steamed basmati rice and a simple cucumber-seaweed salad to soothe the spicy bite.

Thai Steak Salad

  • 1 lb steak (flank works well)
  • 1-2 red chilis
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 4 tbs fish sauce
  • 4 tbs lime juice
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 package (about 30g) chives, snipped into 1 inch lengths
  • a handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

Sear the steak until browned well on both sides, and cook to medium rare or desired doneness. Allow the steak to rest while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a mortar and pestle, mash together the garlic and chilis to create a paste. Scrape the paste into a large bowl, and add the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Mix well to dissolve the sugar. Add the thinly sliced onions, chives and cilantro and toss well to combine. Next, slice the steak into thin, even slices and add to the salad. Mix again thoroughly and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to meld.

Japanese Style Cucumber-Seaweed Salad

  • 1 english cucumber, washed
  • a handful of dried or salted seaweed, washed and reconstituted in cold water (experiment with different seaweeds – wakame, arame etc.)
  • 4 tbs seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 4 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • toasted and black sesame seeds

Thinly slice the cucumber using a mandoline or knife into a large bowl. Drain and squeeze the seaweed of all water and add to the bowl. Add the vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil and toss well to combine. Add a liberal sprinkling of both toasted and black sesame seeds and toss again. Allow flavours to meld for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Advertisements

Lalala – Lasagne

Turkey and Sausage Lasagne
Lasagne, though a dish that I adore, is not a constant in my repertoire. Now that I think about it, I prefer it that way. I am delightfully surprised each time I take the first bite at how it draws me in and comforts me – like a warm, cozy blanket. There are no complex flavour combinations, no costly ingredients, just a simple tomato and meat sauce enhanced with the subtle flavours of the medditeranean. Paired with a slice of home-made garlic bread and a fresh green salad – this dish is a true crowd pleaser. I often forget this fact however, when hosting dinner parties. For some reason I tend to shy away from one dish wonders – a habit I will no doubt have to break.
This particular lasagne I adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook. It’s uncomplicated and therefore imperative that the ingredients you use are the best you can get your hands on. Their version, made with beef, veal and sweet Italian sausage is meaty, yet remains light and exceptionally juicy. While they advise not to cut calories by substituting leaner meat, that is exactly what I did in this case. My motive was not to cut calories however, it was simply that I had ground turkey on hand and decided to put it to the test. I’ll be the first to admit that turkey does not provide the same deeply savoury flavour as beef but on the flip side, it allows for an even lighter dish where the tomato sauce has a chance to sing center stage. The layers of ricotta are airy and fluffy, somehow lifting each noodle to new heights. I often like to spread fresh spinach in between a few layers to add a hint of green and a dose of iron to boot. The final layer is liberally spread with shredded milky mozzarella and parmesan and then baked to a bubbly, crisp golden brown. I don’t know about you but I make sure to serve myself a corner slice – crisp and caramelised and oh so satisfying.
Turkey and Sausage Lasagne – adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
For the sauce:
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 lb ground turkey, dark meat
  • 2 (28oz) cans fire roasted tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp freshly chopped rosemary
  • 2 tsp freshly chopped thyme
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 lbs ricotta
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For assembling:

  • 16 oven-ready (no boil) lasagne noodles
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated

Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring until golden. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the sausage and turkey and cook, stirring and breaking up the larger pieces, until no longer pink. Add the tomato paste and mix thoroughly, then add the herbs, tomatoes and salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to a simmer and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 30 mimnutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove the bay leaf.

Make the filling: Stir together the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl until combined. Preheat the oven to 375F.

To assemble: Spread an even layer of sauce in the bottom of greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Arrange 4 lasagne noodles, slightly overlapping, over sauce. Spread an even layer of the ricotta mixture over the noodles and sprinkle about 2 tbs of parmesan evenly on top. This is where I like to add fresh spinach leaves on occasion. Spread another layer of the sauce over the ricotta and then another 4 noodles. Spread another layer of ricotta, spinkled with parmesan. Repeat the process until all ingredients have been used, finishing with a layer of sauce. Spread the mozzarella evenly over the top and sprinkle with more parmesan. Cover the lasagne with buttered foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until top is bubbling and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let stand to set up for 15 minutes before serving.

Tart ‘n Tiny

Lemon Meringue Tarts

So my resolution to ‘write more frequently’ failed miserably. As you can tell, that was my very last post – on January 4th! So what is that finally lured me back into the blogosphere? It’s that time of the month again. Daring Bakers! I figured, eh, when life gives you lemons – make this months challenge – Lemon Meringue Pie! Jen from The Canadian Baker picked this challenge for us and once again it put me to the test. Not only did I wait until today (yes TODAY!) to make the tarts, I am hugely inexperienced in the pie-making department.

Since my food processor died on me a few months ago, I was left with no other choice but to opt for the pastry cutter process for the dough. This was my first attempt at any pie dough, not to mention the fact I have never used a pastry cutter before. To my relief, the dough came together in a jiffy and it was chilling in the fridge without a single drop of sweat. Once chilled, I rolled it out, used my circle cutters and lined the dough into my mini muffin pan. With the leftover dough I made three larger free-form tart shells. After a quick blind bake, they were itching to be filled.

The curd was next on the list and though the process itself was a cinch, the sweat broke loose on this one! After adding the cornstarch and sugar to the water it was only a matter of seconds before it thickened to an opaque glue. I whisked and whipped with all my strength and once the eggs were tempered and added, it felt as though my right arm had doubled in size! I am going to have to learn how to whisk with my left now just to even things out. I spooned the curd into the mini tart shells, covered them with cling film and left them to set for a while.

Meringue has to be one of the easiest and yet most gratifying recipes in the pastry world. It’s versatility is endless and it’s just plain pretty. With the help of some extra horse power (by way of Kitchen Aid), my meringue was shiny and fluffy before I could fit the tip on my pastry bag. A few dollops of meringue later, the pasty tarts were off for a tan. The crust is lovely – flaky and buttery yet not too sweet. The curd bursts with lemon flavour and is delightfully silky. The meringue, pillowy and light as air.

Et voila! There you have it, tart ‘n tiny lemon meringue pies – made with love. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were too cute to eat!

Lemon Meringue Piefrom “Wanda’s Pie in the Sky” by Wanda Beaver

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie.

For the Crust:

  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
  • 2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:

  • 2 cups (475 mL) water
  • 1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:

  • 5 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:

Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or counter top) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:

Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 ml) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Ringing in the New Year.

Happy New Year! I wish you all an amazing year filled with love, peace, happiness, prosperity and laughter. I cannot believe how much time has elapsed since my last post. It’s embarrassing really. Yes I have been bogged down with guests, work and household chores – but it’s no excuse! New Years resolutions are not usually my shtick. This year however, I did resolve to write more and consistently. You shall all be the judge of my success to uphold that promise or of my looming downfall!

We spent New Years surrounded by friends and fine food – what more could you ask for? We hosted an hors d’oeuvres party here at our house before heading to downtown to dance in the New Year. I decided early on that I wanted a “mini” food theme. While the food itself was bite sized, there was nothing mini about the flavours. Each and every hors d’oeuvres packed a punch – from the spiced red curry and coconut wings to the smoky mini mac and cheeses. As usual, I went over board and cooked up (what I thought was) a feast for 30 people. I was absolutely sure that we would have copious amounts of food to pick at for days to come. Oh was I ever wrong. All that was left was polished off by the hungry hordes that crawled back in from the club at 4am. There’s nothing better than curing the munchies in the wee hours of the morning with your best friends and husband!

The Menu:

Spinach and Feta Burekas:

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 10 oz package of frozen spinach, thawed and thoroughly drained of all liquid
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 4 sprigs of fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 8 oz of Feta, crumbled
  • 3 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the spinach, scallions, dill, feta and 2 eggs together until combined. Season with salt and pepper, mix again and set aside.

Beat the remaining egg with 1 tbs water to make an egg wash. Roll out the puff pastry into a thin, 12 inch square. Cut the square with a sharp knife into 16 (3″) squares. Place 1 tbsp of the spinach mixture into the center of the square and brush the edges with the egg wash. Fold the pastry over to form a triangle and seal the edges by crimping with a fork. Brush the triangle with more egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place on a baking tray and repeat with the remaining squares.

Bake the triangles for 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Shake your pom pom’s.

Pomegranate-marinated Lamb Steaks with Coriander Tabbouleh

Lamb is usually my go-to meat when planning a menu for a dinner party. It never fails to please a crowd and its versatility knows no end. Whether it’s a succulent leg of lamb, spiced ground lamb kabobs, tender to the bone shanks or juicy steaks – I find lamb in every form delicious and spectacularly easy to prepare. Lamb is best prepared medium rare to medium as overcooking it can lead to a dry, pungent dish.

The other day when my best friend came to town, I made sure to have a nice home-cooked meal waiting to welcome her. Lamb and pomegranate have such a natural affiliation – the tart and sweet undertones meld with the subtly gamy meat. The coriander tabbouleh is a refreshing take on the classic. I like to add the seeds of a pomegranate for a surprising pop of flavour. The hollowed out halves of pomegranates make for stunning bowls.

Pomegranate-marinated Lamb Steaks with Coriander Tabboulehadapted from Diva Cooking

Marinade:

  • 1 1/2 tbs pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 lamb steaks or 12 lamb cutlets, trimmed

Pomegranate Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 tbs pomegranate molasses
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tbs clear honey
  • 1 tbs mint, finely chopped

Coriander Tabbouleh:

  • 150 g (5 oz) cracked Bulgar wheat
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1/4 tsp each cumin and fennel seeds, toasted and ground
  • half a red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • a handful each of parsley and cilantro (coriander), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • juice and grated zest of half a lemon
  • cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbs olive oil

Mix together the marinade ingredients and rub into the lamb. Place in a Ziploc bag and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

For the pomegranate dressing, place all the ingredients into a blender and puree until well combined. Check for seasoning and set aside.

To make the tabbouleh, wash the Bulgar wheat in several changes of water and drain. Place the wheat in a large bowl, cover with an inch of cold water and soak for an hour. Drain the wheat, pressing down hard to extract as much water as possible. Mix with the remaining ingredients and toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Grill the steaks or cutlets under a hot grill or on a barbecue, brushing with the marinade and turning to make sure both sides are cooked and glazed until medium rare to medium. Serve with the tabbouleh piled into pomegranate halves and drizzled with the pomegranate dressing.

Timber!

Yule Log

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That was my first thought when I discovered that this months Daring Bakers challenge was a Yule Log (or Bûche de Noël) thought up by Lisa and Ivonne – co founders of the Daring Bakers. My second thought? “What’s the story behind the Yule Log?!” Enter Wikipedia: A Yule Log is a large log which is burned in the hearth as part of traditional Christmas celebrations in some cultures. In the late 18th century, those crafty French turned the idea into – what else – a dessert!

This challenge consisted of three different components; a genoise cake, coffee buttercream frosting and edible meringue (or marzipan) mushrooms. I decided to make the meringue mushrooms rather than marzipan simply because I am not a fan of the almond confection. Huh, it just hit me how strange that considering I LOVE all things almond. Anyhow, I digress. I began this challenge with the mushrooms and was so pleased with the results. Sure they took some time and are a bit finicky – but they look amazingly realistic and taste like heaven! I then took on the genoise cake – my first ever – which we were allowed to flavour as we wished. It was at this point – and knowing that the buttercream was up next – that my nerves began to make an appearance. I had read so many reviews from other daring bakers that their genoise had cracked or their buttercream had curdled and I just knew the same would most likely happen to me. Being the perfectionist and over achiever that I am, this did not sit well with me. So what did I do? I cracked open a Corona to help calm my nerves and I proceeded with the genoise. I didn’t actually flavour the batter but decided to douse it in liquor after baking. I baked it on the short end of the time given as I didn’t want to risk overbaking it.

Which brings me to the foreboding buttercream. I kept all the tips from the other bakers in mind and set forth on my mission. After whisking the egg whites over the heat, I made sure to continue to whip them until cool before adding the butter – the moment of truth. To my utter delight, the buttercream whipped up to a smooth frosting with no curdling in sight! I literally jumped for joy in my kitchen, so relieved and ecstatic that I had conquered buttercream! Did I mention how delicious it tasted? Like coffee ice cream.

Once the cake had cooled, I brushed it with a generous amount of Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, spread a thin layer of the coffee buttercream and sprinkled it with mini chocolate chips. With baited breath, I rolled the cake and let out another yelp of glee when I was met with success! I wrapped the roll up and refrigerated it overnight. As I slept that night, visions of logs and fungi permeated my dreams! The next day I took the buttercream out of the fridge to come to room temperature so I could finish the job. This is where my impatience came in and brought my worst fear to fruition. I mixed the buttercream in the hopes it would soften faster and lo and behold – it separated and curdled! I nearly cried – my gorgeously smooth buttercream was ruined! I quickly leapt into survival mode and put the bowl over simmering water and stirred until the butter began to soften. I stuck it back in the mixer and whipped like crazy until that gloriously smooth frosting reappeared. I wiped the sweat off my brow and settled in for the fun part – decorating!

This challenge was like a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. I enjoyed it immensely and along the way have conquered a few techniques I was afraid to try. I have yet to eat the log so I’ll have to write back in with a flavour update, but the end result is a gorgeous little log that makes for a festive center piece! Thanks again Daring Bakers!

Yule Log –
The genoise and the buttercream for the Yule Log is from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Cakes.
The meringue mushrooms are from
The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert.

Plain Genoise:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • ½ cup cake flour – spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
2. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger – it should be warm to the touch).
4. Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
5. While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
6. Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
8. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
9. While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10. Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Meringue Mushrooms:

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
2. Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
3. Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Assembling the Yule Log:
1. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
2. Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
3. Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
4. Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
5. Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
6. Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
7. Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
8. Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
9. Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
10. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
11. Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Milk and Cookies.

Chocolate Espresso Shortbread

The other day while on the phone with my sister, my adorable 3-year old nephew could be heard in the background pleading (in the cutest voice ever) for a treat. “Miwk and cookies….puhweese?” At that moment I wished I could reach through the phone, take his little hand in mine and head on into the kitchen to bake up a fresh batch of cookies. In fact, I can’t wait for the next time I see him so we can do just that. Baking is such a wonderful activity to do with children as it’s often so hands on. Cookies are especially fun to get your hands in, a deliciously flavoured play dough that you can shape and decorate any which way.

Well in the absence of my nephew, or any other children for that matter, I decided to whip up a few batches on my own. I figured, if anything, my girlfriends would appreciate a holiday gift box of homemade treats. At this time of year, cookie recipes are in abundance. “Pick me, pick me!”, they shout from the glossy pages of magazines or from the drool-worthy blogs I read. One of my favourite bloggers, Smitten Kitchen, happened to post two cookie recipes that trumped all others – Chocolate Espresso Shortbread and Peanut Butter Cookies. The Chocolate Espresso Shortbread has a wonderfully deep, dark and slightly bitter flavour that pairs perfectly with a steaming cup of coffee. These are substantially buttery and crisp but remain light and not overly sweet. I followed the Dorie Greenspan recipe from Baking: From My Home To Yours on Smitten Kitchen’s blog, which can be found here.

I know Peanut Butter Cookies don’t sound so original, especially with the myriad of choices. But Peanut Butter Cookies are one of my favourite cookies and I have yet to discover a recipe that meets my expectations. This recipe, with a few tweaks, proved deliciously peanutty and the perfect combination of crisp and chewy textures. The full-on peanut flavour comes by way of peanut butter and the an addition of chopped salted peanuts. A sprinkling of mini chocolate chips takes the cookie to the next level. Next time I will omit the final sprinkling of sugar before baking as it just scooted past my sugar threshold.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter CookiesAdapted from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter (not natural) at room temperature (I used ¾ cup smooth and ¼ cup crunchy)
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (for sprinkling) sugar (omit the extra sprinkling for less of a sugary mouth feel)
  • ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup salted peanuts, chopped
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanuts and chocolate chips. If using, place sprinkling sugar on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crisscross pattern but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not over bake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Homemade Cookie Gift Boxes

What a catch!

Potato-crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Cauliflower Puree, Sauteed Spinach and Saffron Sauce
Ever since we moved to Jacksonville I have been on the hunt for a fishmonger. Ok, it’s not like I’ve been driving all over the city every day in search – it is the largest city in land area in the USA after all! And let me tell you – those pesky fishmongers don’t really advertise hence making themselves harder to find in this town than a needle in a haystack. You might be wondering, why is a fishmonger so important? What’s wrong with the fish at your supermarket? When you can smell the fish in the aisles well before you get to the counter it has a tendency to be extremely off-putting. Luckily, just the other day Alex got a new co-worker who just so happens to be an avid fisher. Not only did we learn about the unique array of fish found in the St. John’s River (both salt and sweet water fish), but he graciously pointed us in the direction of Jacksonville’s best fishmonger – The Fisherman’s Dock. Naturally, I couldn’t contain my excitement and so we headed out the next morning with high hopes of fresh fish for dinner.


The Fisherman’s Dock was a breath of fresh air. Yeah, I realise that may sound strange for a fishmarket – but it truly was! Their selection of fileted, whole and shell fish was plentiful and top quality. The icing on the cake was that they carried freshly baked breads from The French Pantry – a coveted local french bakery that is only open Monday through Friday, 9am to 3pm. Seeing as their hours are not condusive to “working folk”, I had not yet been able to sample their goods. We bought a wholewheat baguette, smoked salmon, Swordfish steaks, Chilean Sea Bass fillets and a few locally grown star fruit to boot!

For dinner that night, I marinated the Swordfish in a little olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. I blanched some green beans, boiled a few baby potatoes, chopped up cherry tomatoes and some kalamata olives. While the fish went under the broiler, I whipped up a vinaigrette with dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, chopped shallots and olive oil. I tossed all the vegetables together with the vinaigrette et voila – Nicoise Style Swordfish in under 30 minutes!

Nicoise Style Swordfish

The Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish) is shrouded in a fair amount of controversy. Reports of the endangerment and over fishing of this species led to many vendors refusal to sell it. After a seven year hiatus and the implementation of sustainable fishing practices – the Chilean Sea Bass is making a comeback. Of course there are still those out there that operate illegally so the best you can do is ask your vendor for proof that the fish is MSC certified.

I decided to pair the sweet, buttery flavour of this fish with a simple cauliflower puree. I crusted the fillet with thin rounds of potato and served it with a delicate saffron and white wine cream sauce. This was all topped off with a touch of garlic sauteed spinach. The crisp crunch of the potato proved to be the perfect contrast to the large, buttery white flakes of the fish. The sweetness of the cauliflower enhanced the sweetness of the fish and the earthy saffron sauce rounded all the flavours beautifully.

A sticky affair!

Pistachio and Almond Torrone
Torrone – A short, sticky story.

A naive and bright-eyed girl flipped through the pages of her shiny new Gourmet Magazine with glee, admiring the cookies and candies like gems in a jewelry shop. When the page flipped open to reveal Pistachio Torrone, she paused. “This would make the perfect gift for my Italian brother-in-law,” she thought. It just so happened that she and her husband were off to visit her in-laws in Canada the next day. Did the the thought of having less than 24 hours to make the candy (for the first time ever), go to work and pack her bags deter her? Not a chance. After all, this girl had a habit of biting off more than she could chew. After reading through the ingredient list she let out a squeal of delight – she had them all on hand! Well all except the edible paper, but she was determined and figured good old wax paper would do.
As her lunch break arrived, she set out to make the candy. The honey and sugar boiled and bubbled, her eyes transfixed on the thermometer. She eyed the picture of torrone in the magazine, a glorious ivory bar studded with emerald green pistachios. Meanwhile, the colour of the syrup gradually turned from straw, to amber, to deep caramel! At last, after what seemed like hours, the temperature reached the hard-crack stage and it was time to whip the egg whites. Once they reached soft peaks, she poured in the liquid gold in a slow and steady stream. The mixer whipped and whirred, the egg mixture rose and fell. The longer the mixture was whipped, the lighter is became, until it finally reached the glossy ivory colour she had so admired. “So far, so good,” she thought to herself. She added the almond extract, orange flour water, roasted almonds and pistachios. She sprinkled her work surface and hands with a dash of cornstarch and attempted to turn out the torrone. It was reluctant to leave the comfort of the bowl. She reached in and with super strength she managed to pry the torrone loose. She followed the directions and kneaded the torrone, only to find her hands covered in a sticky, cement-like mass. She persevered and scooped up the the torrone and spread it into the wax paper lined baking dish. It was at this point, with hands, sink and counter top covered in a sticky mess, that she began to curse her habit of biting off more than she could chew. While she washed the mess away, she lectured herself on the health benefits of taking smaller bites and chewing slowly.
Hours passed, (8 to be exact) and it was finally time to unmold and cut the masterpiece. It was midnight, she would wake again in 4 1/2 hours to catch her flight. “This better be worth it”, she thought as she closed her eyes and took a bite. A wave of almond and honey crashed into her taste buds followed by a hearty crunch of roasted almonds and pistachios, ending with a sweet, floral note like a kiss goodbye. It may not have been the best timing to make it, but without a doubt – it was worth it.
The End.
Pistachio and Almond Torroneadapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 2007
  • 1 1/2 cups clover honey
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp orange-flower water
  • 3/4 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup whole roasted almonds
  • 1 tbs cornstarch plus additional for kneading
  • edible wafer paper if you can get it
  • candy thermometer

Oil an 8-inch square baking pan and line it with the edible wafer paper if you have it, or as I did, with wax paper. Trim to fit and set aside.

Heat the honey, sugar and water in a 5-quart heavy pot over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat medium and bring the syrup to a boil without stirring, washing down the sugar crystals on the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Put the thermometer into the syrup and continue to boil, stirring occasionally until it registers 310F to 315F (upper end of hard-crack stage). When the thermometer reaches 300F, start to whip the egg whites with the salt in a mixer until they hold soft peaks. Remove syrup from heat and allow to stand until bubbles dissipate.

With the mixer at low speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture has cooled to warm (mixture will rise, then fall), about 20 minutes. Add flower water and almond extract and beat one minute more. Then fold in the nuts. Sprinkle a work surface with cornstarch (1 tbs) and then spoon the torrone mixture onto cornstarch and knead gently a few times with hands dipped in cornstarch. Pat the torrone mixture into the baking pan and top with a square of wafer paper or wax paper, trimming to fit. Let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours.

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and then invert the torrone onto a cutting board. Cut torrone into 1-inch wide strips, or however you like. Wrap in parchment paper. Torrone will keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature for 2 weeks.

Note: The torrone is very very sticky! I would highly recommend the edible wafer paper but as in my case, the wax paper worked out. I found that refrigerating the torrone made it easier to cut and peel the paper off before serving.

Wear waterproof mascara.

Soupe a L’Oignon

There are times when I am up for the challenge of trying out a complicated, showy, top-chef quality recipe that tests my skills and wows my guests. Naturally, there isn’t enough time (or funding) to cook like that every day. While the plating and flavours are often extraordinary, they often lack the all important comfort factor. And I must say there is nothing worse than the overwhelming feeling of disappointment if the overall dish turns out to be a failure. That’s when I’ll turn my focus back to the classics – those fool proof dishes that ooze comfort and familiarity.
They are a true testament to the notion that less is more – a few choice (and most often affordable) ingredients can transform into a seductive and nostalgic dish that fills the void left by any previous failures. Coco Chanel’s advice on accessories was to always take one thing off before leaving the house. I find that this advice transcends fashion and applies to food as well.
I think Coco would agree with me that classic Onion Soup is a dish that will never go out of style. This hearty soup is mellow and sweet, simple yet stunning. Slow cooking coaxes out the natural sugars in the onions while wine and beef stock add depth. In this version I used a light red wine rather than my usual choice of a dry white. This added a deeper layer of heartiness which complimented the caramelised onions. So when all else fails, be it a new recipe you tried or a tough day at work, sit back and tuck into a comforting, steaming bowl of onion soup.

Soupe a L’Oignon adapted from Paris by Williams-Sonoma

  • 2 1/2 lb yellow onions
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tbs canola oil
  • pinch of sugar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups light red or dry white wine
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 6 thick slices coarse country or french bread, 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 3 cups shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese

Thinly slice the onions lengthwise and set aside. In a large, heavy pot over medium low heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, adding the sugar and seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are meltingly soft, golden and lightly caramelised, 25-30 minutes.

Add the wine and raise the heat to high. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes. Next add the stock, bay leaf and strip the leaves off the thyme sprigs into the soup. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer, uncovered, until the soup is dark and full flavoured, about 45 minutes.

Just before serving, preheat the oven to 400F. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast, turning once, until golden on both sides. Remove from the oven and set aside. Next, remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Ladle the hot soup into ovenproof soup bowls arranged on a baking sheet. Place a piece of toast on top of each bowl and sprinkle evenly with with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts and is golden and bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve at once.