Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Week Day Dessert

 Chocolate peanut butter spelt brownies

(Inspired by Ricardo's Nutella brownies)

  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) spelt flour
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) Nutella or other chocolate spread
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) crunchy natural peanut butter (or smooth + 2 tablespoons crushed peanuts)
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) brown sugar
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) butter, melted
  • Pre-heat the oven to 170C (325F). Line a 20 cm (8x8 inch) square cake pan with parchment paper.  Butter the 2 other sides.
  • Whisk together spelt flour and salt.
  • Beat eggs, chocolate spread, peanut butter, brown sugar and vanilla extract until smooth.
  • Add the butter and mix for 30 seconds.  Fold in the flour mixture.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake in the center of oven for 35-40 minutes until center is set, but not firm.  Let cool.  Remove from pan and cut into 9 squares.
Take it one step further: Microwave a brownie for 15 seconds (or until warm).  Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the brownie.  Drizzle with chocolate sauce, and finish with roughly chopped peanuts.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Quinoa Greek Salad

I have recently updated my cooking technique for Quinoa (as seen in Mainstreet February 2014):

Quinoa arguably the reigning super food of the last few years is becoming a mainstay in the kitchen pantry. Quinoa, which is a seed, is prepared in the same way as a grain, and is often served as such. Unlike brown rice, quinoa takes no longer to cook than Basmati or Jasmine rice. Quinoa’s high protein content makes it a great addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet.  The following recipe is a meal in itself, but would do well as a side dish.  I would serve it with a marinated pork loin or chicken breast.  Just set aside a little vinaigrette in another container, and baste the meat just before cooking.

Recently I was looking for an interesting quinoa recipe on line when I stumbled upon Bon Appetite’s guide to common mistakes made when cooking quinoa. For simplicities’ sake I will just summarize what to do in order to cook it perfectly:  Rinse quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, as quinoa will slip through a regular colander. The quinoa to water ratio is 1:2, in other words 1 cup of quinoa for 2 cups of water.  Add both to a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low immediately, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Drain the quinoa, once again, using a fine mesh sieve.  Return the quinoa to the pot, and let stand covered on the burner, which is now off, for another 15 minutes.  This allows the quinoa to dry out slightly. Then fluff the quinoa with a fork, and serve or let cool, and use in a salad.

Quinoa Greek Salad

·      250 ml (1 cup) quinoa
·      500ml (2 cups) water*
·      1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) salt
·      1 medium tomato, diced
·      1/2 English cucumber, diced
·      125 ml (1/2 cup) kalamata olives, pitted, roughly chopped
·      1/2 yellow or red onion, diced
·      (3 oz) 100 g feta, diced
·      60 ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice
·      125 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
·      2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
·      2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) dried oregano**
·      1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) dried mint
·      1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) dried dill
·      To taste salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook the quinoa as directed above, and let cool. Add the cooled quinoa, tomato, cucumber, olives, onion and feta to a bowl and toss. Add the ingredients of the vinaigrette to a small jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake vigorously until homogenized.  Set aside. Give it a few shakes just before serving, and pour it liberally over salad. Toss and serve.

*You can infuse the water used to cook the quinoa with herbs and spices, or replace the water with the same amount of broth.  Try adding lemon, lime or orange zest to the water or whole spices that you remove once cooked.

**Dried herbs are convenient, but try using fresh herbs for the vinaigrette when able.  Greek salad often calls for green pepper, but my kids do not like it’s bitter taste.  I save the green for cooking, and use red, yellow and orange peppers for salads and crudités. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Moroccan Dafina

This dish is one of the favorites of my childhood.  Dafina is a Sephardic Beef "stew", and the cooking technique is adapted to the Sabbath (the day of rest).  My Step Father's Mother, who was an exceptional cook, taught my Mom how to make it. This delicious one pot meal, with fork tender beef, rice and chickpeas infused with stock and spices is visually a very brown dish, but a little coriander or parsley added as garnish give the final product a boost.

serves 4 to 6

  • 310 ml (1 1/4 cups) dried chickpeas
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1.36 kg (3 lbs) beef chuck roast 
  • 3-4 beef ribs or beef bones
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) canola oil
  • 4 large russet potatoes*, peeled
  • 2 l (8 cups) beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) paprika
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) ground cumin
  • 2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) cinnamon
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) salt 
  • 2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) ground pepper
  • 250 ml (1 cup) uncooked long grain rice
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) cinnamon
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) ground nutmeg
  •  2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) ground pepper
  • 4 to 6 eggs in shell, rinsed
  • Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large quantity of water.  Drain and reserve. In a large pot with a tight fitting lid saute the onions in oil until lightly golden.  Add the chickpeas, meat, ribs or bones, and potatoes.  Add the stock, bay leaf, paprika, cumin, first quantity of cinnamon, first quantity of salt and ground pepper.   Pre-heat oven to 95 C (200 F).
  • To a bowl add the rice, 1 egg, remaining cinnamon, nutmeg, second quantity of salt and pepper, and mix to blend.  Wrap the mixture well in a cheese cloth, and nestle it, and the remaining eggs in shell gently into the pot. Add enough water (if necessary), to mostly cover stew. Let the pot come to a gently boil. Remove from heat immediately, cover, and place in the center of the preheated oven.  Cook for 12 to 18 hours, adding a little stock or water to the Dafina if it becomes too dry.
*1 large russet will feed 2 people easily considering the other ingredients in the meal. However for the sake of left overs I usually add at least 4 potatoes if I am serving 4 people or just in case people are really hungry.
Serve the potatoes sliced.  Slice the meat thinly.  Remove the rice from the cheese cloth, and separate grains with a fork. Add all the ingredients to a large serving dish in a decorative manner or serve the ingredients in separate serving dishes. Provide a dish for the egg shells.

Just a note:  When my mom made this dish the rice mixture sometimes contained either ground beef or lamb.  If you feel like trying it, add half a pound of raw ground meat to the mixture.  Sprinkle the rice with coriander just before serving.  If anyone reading this has a different way of making this dish please share in the comments section. What additions or variations have you made or experienced?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fussy Eater's Crock Pot Chicken Thighs with Root Vegetables

Here is an economical and tasty crock pot dinner that is designed for people who think ingredients like paprika and coriander are exotic.  It's for fussy eaters for those nights when you just want everybody to eat what's in front of them.  You can always put sriracha on the table for yourself.

Crock Pot Chicken Thighs & Root Vegetables
serve 4
  • 12 chicken thighs, de-boned,without skin
  • 3 large carrots, peeled, in 2 inch pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, in 2 inch pieces
  • 3 large parsnips, peeled, in 2 inch pieces
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled, quartered
  • 2 large yellow onions, peeled, cut in six wedges
  • 4 uncooked eggs in shell*, shells rinsed
  • 1.5 l (6 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) dried sage
  • 2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) whole peppercorns
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) cornstarch
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) water 
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) lemon juice
  • To taste sea salt
  • Sufficient quantity fresh dill (optional)
  • Add all ingredients besides cornstarch, water, lemon juice and sea salt to a crock pot.  Cook on high for 6 hours or on low for 8 to 9 hours.  For the last hour of cooking combine the cornstarch and water to make a slurry, and pour into crock pot. Stir gently to combine.  Just before serving add the lemon juice, and season with salt. Sprinkle with dill. Make sure everyone gets an egg and provide a communal bowl for shells.  
*I often add eggs to the crock pot with my son in mind (he is not a fan of meat). But slow cooked eggs are a delicious treat that I originally had as part of a Dafina. Dafina is a slow cooked Jewish Moroccan beef stew my mom learned to make from her mother in law, who hailed from Casablanca and was an amazing cook. Dafina is one of my all time favorite dishes.
Recipes for Fussy Eaters:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best Holiday Treats

I like to have at least 4 kinds of cookies on hand for gift giving, and hosting.  The Swirl cookies have become part of my repertoire, and I have made them every Christmas for almost a decade.  Ricardo's Sucre a la creme recipe is the best  I know of. Biscotti is a good addition for those who want a little something sweet, but not a full on sugar/fat buzz.  The candy cane short bread is a recipe I developed recently. In the above photo I mixed the crushed candy cane into the dough, and flattened the cookies with a glass. 

Candy Cane Shortbread Cookies
as seen in Mainstreet
Makes 45-50 Cookies

·      500 ml (2 cups) all purpose flour
·      250 ml (1 cup) icing sugar
·      250 ml (1 cup) corn starch
·      1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) sea salt
·      375 ml (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
·      5 ml (1 teaspoon) peppermint extract
·      Sufficient quantity cane canes (red/green/white candy canes look best)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first 4 ingredients. Stir in the butter, and peppermint extract until a well blended dough is formed. Shape into 2.5 cm (1 inch) balls. If dough is too soft to handle, cover and chill for 1 hour.  

Now here is the fun part:  Either throw the candy canes into a food processor or break up the candy canes up by hand using a knife or a mortar and pestle.  You can even turn the canes into a fine powder if you have the patience to do it by hand or throw them in a coffee grinder that is dedicated to spice grinding. I would test a few cookie dough balls by bringing together the cookies and crushed cane in different ways to see which you prefer.  You can try making a indent in a ball and filling it with crushed candy cane, or rolling a ball in crushed candy cane and flattening it with a fork on a cookie sheet.  Alternately if you have made a fine power you can bake them, and then dust the baked cookies (once cool enough to handle), as you would with icing sugar.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Candy Cane Cupcakes

Crushed candy cane recipes are every where!  I honestly went on for a minute or two thinking I had an original recipe idea until I turned to Google images, and realized I am just one small part of a collective baking unconscious.

Candy Cane Cupcakes
24 cupcakes

 Cupcake batter:
  • 750 ml (3 cups) all purpose flour
  • 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 7 ml (1 1/2 teaspoons) baking soda
  • Large pinch salt
  • 180 ml ( 3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) peppermint extract
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) crushed candy cane (red/green candy canes look best)
  • 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) whole milk
  • 250 ml (1 cup) butter, room temperature
  • 1.5 l (6 cups) icing sugar
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) 35% cream
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) peppermint extract

Pre-heat oven to 190C (375F). Line 2 x 12 cup muffin tins with paper baking cups.

Cupcake batter:
In a bowl whisk together the first 4 ingredients.  With a standing or hand held mixer cream the butter and sugar for 5 minutes (or until light and fluffy). Add one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Add the peppermint extract and crushed candy cane. Beat for a few seconds to blend.  Add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the milk, in 2 additions. Divide the batter equally among the paper baking cups.  Bake cupcakes on the middle rack of oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool.

Cream the butter in a standing or hand held mixer until smooth.  Add the icing sugar 125 ml (1/2 cup) at a time.  Add the cream and peppermint extract, and beat until well blended.  Transfer icing to a piping bag with a star tip. Once the cupcakes are completely cooled frost cupcakes with icing and decorate as desired.

*Crushed candy cane can be used as  sprinkles. I found mini candy canes sprinkles at Walmart.