Category Archives: Recipes

A Change of Seasons…

It has been nearly three months since my last blog entry… It has been a full three months with some high moments and some very low ones too. On the exciting side of things, there was a trip to Spain to plan which ate up pretty much my entire August until we left on September 16th. On the very sad side of things, we came back to face my mom in law’s rapidly deteriorating health. We said our final goodbyes last Friday as she finally let go of all her suffering.

My sweet mom in law Maria has been at the core ofmany of my blog posts and my inspiration in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, both my own mom and her have been my lifelong kitchen mentors. Everything I master well, I have both of them to be utterly thankful for. I make mean soups because Maria showed me how to extract the maximum flavour in broths. I often say that Harvesting Dinner should have been named My Heritage Kitchen instead… So true.

The Funeral is talking place this week and I am honouring my second mom by baking a few things but most specifically, her infamous apple cake. I shared that recipe with you last year and I thought the best tribute I could offer is to share it once again. Please visit and enjoy Omi’s Apfelkuchen

There are a few other recipes that oozes her touch. Her Cabbage Rolls for instance are a family favourite. I made these during this past Thanksgiving weekend. I couldn’t think of a better thanksgiving meal to have while we were enjoying the cottage, this magical place that is the fruit of her and dad’s labour.

I am utterly thankful to have shadowed her in her kitchen all those years, jotting ingredients, measuring all the “a bit of this, a handful of that” so that I can recreate all of her delicious recipes. I know she will be standing by my side on Wednesday while I bake the apple cake. I know she will be tickled pink that it is the cake I chose to bake because of all the scrumptious desserts she baked, nothing was more acclaimed by all than this particular cake. And she made it often, for every occasion because you know, Apfelkuchen cures everything!

I am grateful to have had such a wonderful second mom in my life. She loved unconditionally,  showered us with more love than you can possible imagine and spoiled us rotten ALL THE TIME! She was extremely proud of her two grandsons, our Princes and she shared a very special bond with her only child, my very own King. How lucky am I that she treated me like her own daughter. I am already missing her dearly…

#apples #cabbage #cabbagerolls #applecake

 

Cabbage  Rolls 2
Cabbage Rolls 2

Sour Cherries Leave a Sweet Taste…

This may be one of my shortest blog posts ever!!! Rejoice all of you who secretly wish I would just “get to the point” (or the recipe) when I publish something :)! This is the story of me making sour cherry pie filling for the very first time in my entire life. Why did I wait so long to try make this? I dunno… I thought it would be long and difficult? I didn’t know how? It’s easy to buy it ready made? I never saw fresh sour cherries at the market before? Or maybe never noticed them before? Who knows… There is always a first for everything and this was mine. Ironic because cherry is my favourite pie ever. It so happens to land close second with the King, his numero uno desserts being apple baked in “everything”. It happens that it also was my father-in-law’s ultimate favourite pie of all times and I am always reminded of him when a cherry pie graces our dinner table. Fond memories indeed!

I was bumming around the farmer’s stall on the Byward Market (no surprise here) for my weekly fill of all the good stuf in season this past Saturday when I saw these shiny crimson red beauties. Next thing I knew, they were in my shopping basket. What to do, what to do??! My friend Google came to the rescue and to my surprise, site after site after site offered pretty much the same ingredients/steps. So I won’t really credit anyone here except that I settled on “AllRecipes.com” for the basic guidelines. As for the pastry well… Drum roll please, it is confession time: I am useless, completely useless at making pie dough. Sometimes it turns out and other times, it is a HUGE fiasco. I will never, ever share a “how to make pie dough” recipe on this site. Ever! Pie dough is my nemesis, pinky swear! I could tell you stories about pie crust disasters. And I can have a few friends tell you I am not exaggerating either. Like this one time when I had 24 tourtières to make for a catering order at a very busy time of year and I called my buddy Laura SC in tears at 10pm on a Saturday night because all I was ending up with were mountains of crumbs… But that is a story for another day. I said I would get to the point: so I used, instead of making from scratch, ta ta ta tum… wait for it… Frozen puff pastry. Yup, there, I’ve said it out loud! I used frozen puff pastry from the grocery store. Marvellous little invention I say :). So project sour cherry turnover was done in a jiffy with homemade from scratch sour cherry filling and frozen pastry dough. I think regular pie dough or puff pastry dough can be used interchangeably. Best damn sour cherry filling I ever had!

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Who can resist these hot, flaky pockets of sweetness?
Sour Cherry Pie Filling and Turnovers

All the recipes I came across in my Google searches offered pretty much the same ingredients in the same proportions. I added cinnamon, just because :).

What you need

  • 4 cups pitted fresh sour cherries (I used a traditional cherry/olive pitting tool)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • Egg wash or heavy cream
  • Optional: toasted almond and powder sugar crumble (instructions follow)

How to make it

  1. Rinse and using a little gadget or the tip of a paring knife, remove the pit from all the cherries
    Cherry pitting
    Cherry pitting
  2. Add the cherries to a heavy bottom pot.
    Time to feel the heat!
    Cooking sour cherries
  3. In a separate bowl, combine together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt
  4. Add to the cherries and mix well to coat evenly. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant silicone spatula or wooden spoon
    Coating well with sugar and cornstarch
    Adding sugar and cornstarch
  5. Once the mixture starts to thicken, reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the cherries have softened, anywhere between 6 to 10 minutes.
    Starting to bubble away
    Cooking sour cherries
  6. Remove from heat and let cool completely
  7. Once the filling is completely cooled off, you can make the turnovers
  8. Set oven to 400°F and place rack on the middle position
  9. Cut each pastry sheet in 9 squares. Prepare only one sheet at a time keeping the other sheet refrigerated until needed.
  10. Set a small amount of filling in the middle of each square, slightly wet the edges and fold in a triangle. Using a forks, seal the edges well.
    Stuff, fold, crinkle, repeat
    They are starting to look yummy!

    Resist the urge to overfill!
    Puff pastry squares getting a big scoop of cherry pie filling
  11. Place on baking sheet and brush with egg wash (1 egg yolk well mixed with a tablespoon of water) heavy cream if you have on hand.
  12. The turnovers are ready to bake. It will take 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep an eye on them after 10 minutes. They are ready when they have developed a deep golden colour. And maybe the filling will ooze out just like mine did, that’s okay: nothing that a fork can’t fix when it is time to eat
  13. You can top with an almond and powdered sugar crumble after the egg wash has been brushed on. To make the crumble, you will need about 1/2 cup toasted almonds and 3 tbsp powdered sugar whizzed through a food processor until it reaches a coarse and crumbly mixture. Pat a generous amount on top of each turnover. The baking time remains the same.

These are best eaten warm and right away! As if you could wait…

Time to devour!
This picture barely happened before the turnovers were chowed down!

Summer Parties Beg For Ice Cream Sandwiches!

It’s Thursday already which means that my vacation at the cottage is drawing  to an end way too quickly. I must vacate tomorrow afternoon to let a brand new set of vacationers come and bask in our idyllic setting.  I had promised myself days on end of uninterrupted blog writing and instead, I found myself scrambling for several days looking for inspiration… How ironic to now have the time to let my creativity flow and end up suffering from writer’s block while when I am at work, and have very little time to spare, my mind is full of ideas. I wanted to write a lot and to write something that would suck you right in, wanting to read bit more, maybe to read it all. In hopes of getting my pen and my mojo flowing, I settled in comfortably on the sun filled porch with several of my favourite cookbook authors, reading chapter upon chapter of what inspires them most and what sparks their culinary passions. Maybe by osmosis of the great ones, I could trigger some creativity of my own? I read about Dominique Ansel’s impressive rise to glory (he’s the Cronut guy from NYC) and how Rachel Roddy settled in Rome while searching to find something else in her life (she’s high up there on my list of faves). I read several chapters of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and his love affair with his old world, regretted not having brought along Mimi Thorrisson’s or David Lebovitz’s books and managed to get caught up on several past editions of Bon Appétit magazine, especially the latest few about summer everything! I am completely absorbed by cookbooks that read like novels, of stories of visits to farmer’s markets, fishmongers, butchers and bakeries. I love to read about that special second hand deep dish enamel glazed cast iron pot that was snatched up somewhere in a remote country side flea market and that now makes the perfect cassoulet. As I read and entered their world, it struck me how much we are the same. They are like old friends, whom you wish to linger with over a long stretched out meal, tossing dirty plates aside once emptied to be cleaned much later, sweeping breadcrumbs with the back of the hand, not wanting to leave the table while another bottle gets uncorked. At the root of each of these authors’ books are the memories of meals of their childhoods, of family gatherings and of dinners with friends, which inherently has always been the driving force behind my own love affair with food.

And so it came to me after reading pages and pages of meals served in bucolic settings or whipped up in tiny, awkward and poorly appointed kitchens. That is exactly what just happened this past weekend; whipping up meals for a huge crowd in a bucolic setting in an awkward kitchen!!! Instant inspiration! The King and I just crowned another successful family gathering at our cottage, an annual event that seems to grow each year as our young ones now have dates to share in the fun with. Although the weekend is a community effort of potluck dishes, snacks and desserts, my fun is to take over the big Saturday night feast. It takes me weeks to finally settle on the menu for the event and I love every minute of planning! Feeding crowds of hungry guests seem to come naturally to me… I remember exactly when I hosted my first grown up reception, it was in the summer of 1990. I set to make my first gastronomic meal for 10 wanting to showcase my beautiful new china, acquired barely a year prior when my King and I walked out of a church under a shower of confetti. To be frank, I don’t remember much of the menu details other than little smoke salmon and crème fraiche pumpernickel tartines and grilled shrimps with aioli served as appetizers. I know the cocktail was followed by a three course sit down meal yet I forget what I served. But what I remember, and what my guests remember (most are still part of my life) is the mood of that evening. It was a classy backyard affair, complete with our brand new «newlywed» china, silver and crystal. Tables were draped with flowing white tablecloths and little white lights and candles gave off a beautiful glow against the grapevine backdrop. It was the type of evening that lingers just so and you wish never to end… My own heart was conquered by the perfection of that night and I have since pursued to recreate the magic, often getting pretty darn close yet never quite fully capturing that exact vibe, as it often happens with «firsts». But close enough and just as recently as this past weekend, there was magic again in the air….

Feeding a lot of people is always a challenge, especially when you count on Mother Nature’s generous spirit to grace the event with perfect weather. Over the years I have learned that my minuscule cottage kitchen is amazing at feeding crowds and that using the rotisserie feature on the BBQ may seem like a bright idea but better kept for smaller more intimate dinner parties. I have learned that candles are absolutely necessary to bring magic to any table, even when it is dressed with a cheap plastic tablecloth and that planning a «make most of it ahead» menu guarantees I can partake with everyone from the get go. I have learned that renting dishes is amazing for the main feast and Royal Chinet is a crowd’s best friend for all the other meals. And lastly, I have learned that although many question the necessity of serving dessert when planning is under way (everyone is always watching their waistline), somehow homemade desserts disappear much, much faster than a plate of crudités!!! In keeping with my «make as much ahead as possible» philosophy, one of the desserts I chose to make this year were ice cream sandwiches from scratch. I decided that this handheld bundle of sweetness would be perfect for cottage life and would please all age groups. My chocolate chip cookies already having a near cult following, a recipe I have adapted from a Martha Stewart original, they would be the perfect vehicle to carry big scoops of homemade ice cream. It was also high time I put my lovely ice cream machine to good use: having stored it away after moving from the big house to the smaller apartment 3 years ago. I suddenly had a light bulb moment: this machine would serve us all much better at the cottage where frozen treats are highly favoured but transporting them from grocery store to the lake can be a bit of a gamble. Why have I not thought of this sooner??? The ice cream machine now has a new home and it has been used more often this summer than in the past 4 or 5 years since it has been purchased. And so project ice cream sandwich it was! Made in advance and appreciated by happy guests, it was the perfect dessert for this crowd!

My tip to you: plan ahead. It is nearly impossible to make ice cream in one day. Unless you own a commercial machine or blast chiller, time is your very best friend and most important ingredient. If you make a custard type ice cream, as in the recipes that follow, you will need a good solid 12 hours of chilling time once the custard is cooked. The churning vessel from your machine probably needs a good 24 hours in the freezer to freeze properly. Once your ice cream has churned, it benefits from spending another several hours in the freezer to solidify although it is ready to spoon on the cookies immediately. Once filled, the sandwiches will also need a bit of time in the freezer to firm up. The cookies should be made ahead as well. Although the cookie recipe I present to you is awesome and makes a huge batch, any favourite cookie recipe of your own collection will pair well with ice cream. Just remember that it is easier to eat a sandwich made with thin cookies… Then again, messes are fun too and cookies with ice cream are a match made in heaven regardless of the cookie flavour, thickness or size. Have fun! But beware, you may start something in your household that could result in begging for you to make more of and more often!

This post offers 3 recipes and each does not need the other to de devoured but magic sure happens when they are combined together! Making ice cream is not complicated but I will not sugar coat it:  it is a project that requires time and planning. The rest is as easy as making a batch of cookies and cooking a custard.

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Sweet stack

THIN CRISPY-CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Adapted from an original recipe by Martha Stewart

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Ingredient line-up
What you need

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 cups butter, softened
  • 3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups chocolate chips

How to make it

  1. Heat your oven to 350°F and line sheet with parchment paper
  2. Mix together flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar
  3. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until combined and fluffy
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and then vanilla until well blended
  5. Add flour and beat on low until just blended
  6. Add chocolate chips and beat until well combined
  7. Drop on cookie sheets, 2-3 tbsp of batter, (I use a medium ice cream scoop) and spread about inches apart. The high butter content of these cookies will make them spread a fair bit. It is best not to crowd your baking sheet.
  8. Flatten each mound slightly by wetting hands with cold water which will prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers
  9. Bake 12-16 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely.

Notes:

  • If the batter spreads too quickly in the oven and looks like the butter is oozing out, it is a sign that your oven is too hot. It is wise to invest in an oven thermometer as each oven has its own personality. Some ovens allow thermometer adjustments while others don’t. Exact oven temperature is more important when baking. Cooking or roasting are a temperature are a bit more forgiving. Manufacturers have online
  • Salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably, each offering a subtle flavour variation
  • This batch makes a ton of cookies, maybe 60 or so. You can shape the cookies and freeze the raw dough in individual portions, pulling out a few cookie «pucks» as needed and have freshly baked cookies on a whim.
  • The recipe can be halved
  • Once baked, the cookies can also be frozen
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    They can be individually frozen at this stage and pulled out when craving warm homemade chocolate chip cookies!
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Hard to resist…

VANILLA ICE CREAM

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Churned just right…
This recipe is based on a traditional custard type ice cream, which yields a super rich and unctuous frozen dessert. Because the base is cooked, it is best to prepare one day ahead and chill thoroughly overnight for best results.

To fill all the cookies, you will need 2 batches of ice cream. I opted for variety and made both chocolate and vanilla.

What you need

  • 1½ cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream)
  • 2½ cups milk (avoid non fat milk)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 pod of fresh vanilla or 2 tsp real vanilla extract

How to make it

  1. If you are using a machine fitted with a liquid filled vessel, make sure you set it to freeze at least 24 hours before you need to churn your ice cream.
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the white. You can save the egg whites for another recipe such as meringue or egg white omelet. Egg whited freeze very well.
  3. Pour the cream and milk in a deep casserole with a heavy bottom, whisk in ¼ cup of the sugar and the salt.
  4. Split the vanilla pod in the center and using the tip of the knife, scrape the paste and whisk into the milk. Add in the leftover pod as well.
  5. On medium heat, cook until it starts to foam slightly on the edges, stirring frequently with a heat proof rubber spatula to ensure the milk doesn’t burn at the bottom.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  7. Once the cream mixture has heated up, temper the egg yolks by slowly incorporating a bit of hot cream. To achieve this, make sure your bowl is secured onto your work surface. I like to settle my bowl onto a wet dishcloth. Using a whisk in one hand and a ladle in the other, vigorously whisk the eggs while incorporating a trickle of hot cream slowly but steadily. Proceed this way until half the milk has been incorporated into the eggs. The preparation should be smooth and grit free. If the preparation looks grainy or full of little lumps, you need to start again: it means the yolks have started cooking before emulsifying with the hot cream. Some like to use a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment which frees up their hand to control the addition of hot milk better. I find that taking my time and pouring just a bit of hot milk at a time works just as well. Chose a technique that better suit your needs.
  8. Once your eggs have been tempered with half of the hot milk, pour back into the casserole into the remaining hot cream while whisking.
  9. Cook over medium to medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just about to start to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and pour over a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof bowl. Let cool slightly, cover the entire surface with plastic wrap of parchment paper to avoid the formation of a crust.
  10. Once cooled enough, chill in the fridge for a good 12 hours. You can reduce the chilling time by placing the custard in the freezer for a few hours: just remember to stir frequently to cool evenly.
  11. Churning: once the vessel is frozen solid and the custard completely chilled, set your ice cream to churn according to your appliance’s instructions. I own a Cuisinart and the machine is pretty straight forward: place custard in the vessel, add churning blade, cover and turn on. There are no other speeds. It takes about 30-35 minutes of churning.
  12. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, leave the ice cream in the churning vessel as you assemble your sandwiches. The vessel is still frozen enough to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Set an opened container in the freezer and build 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, placing them in the freezer as soon as each is assembled
  13. If you do not plan on making ice cream sandwiches, then once the churning is completed, transfer the mixture to another container, cover the surface well with plastic wrap and set to freeze a little longer, maybe 3-4 hours more before serving. The plastic wrap prevents the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream and also prevents the ice cream from absorbing unwanted “freezer flavour”.

INTENSELY CHOCOLATEY ICE CREAM

The recipe is slightly different than the vanilla ice cream recipe.

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Chocolatey goodness!
What you need

  • 1½ cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream)
  • 2½ cups milk (avoid non fat milk)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar, divided in 2
  • ½ cup dark cocoa powder*
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp real vanilla extract

*Since cocoa powder is the star ingredient in making a rich and chocolatey ice cream, I recommend a good splurge on a high quality cocoa.

How to make it

If you are using a machine fitted with a liquid filled vessel, make sure you set it to freeze at least 24 hours before you need to churn your ice cream.

  1. Separate the egg yolks from the white. You can save the egg whites for another recipe such as meringue or egg white omelet. Egg whited freeze very well.
  2. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, ½ cup of sugar, salt and 1 cup of milk until smooth, set aside
  3. Pour the cream and remaining milk in a deep casserole with a heavy bottom. Add vanilla
  4. On medium heat, cook until it starts to foam slightly on the edges, stirring frequently with a heat proof rubber spatula to ensure the milk doesn’t burn at the bottom.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  6. Once the cream mixture has heated up, temper the egg yolks by slowly incorporating a bit of hot liquid. To achieve this, make sure your bowl is secured onto your work surface. I like to settle my bowl onto a wet dishcloth. Using a whisk in one hand and a ladle in the other, vigorously whisk the eggs while incorporating a trickle of hot cream slowly but steadily. Proceed this way until all the milk has been incorporated into the eggs. The preparation should be smooth and grit free. If the preparation looks grainy or full of little lumps, you need to start again: it means the yolks have started cooking before emulsifying with the hot cream. Some like to use a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment which frees up their hand to control the addition of hot milk better. I find that taking my time and pouring just a bit of hot milk at a time works just as well. Chose a technique that better suit your needs.
  7. Once your eggs have been tempered with half of the hot milk, pour back into the casserole into the remaining hot cream while whisking. Whisk in the cocoa/milk mixture.
  8. Cook over medium to medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just about to start to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and pour over a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof bowl. Let cool slightly, cover the entire surface with plastic wrap of parchment paper to avoid the formation of a crust.
  9. Once cooled enough, chill in the fridge for a good 12 hours.You can reduce the chilling time by placing the custard in the freezer for a few hours: just remember to stir frequently to cool evenly.
  10. Churning: once the vessel is frozen solid and the custard completely chilled, set your ice cream to churn according to your appliance’s instructions. I own a Cuisinart and the machine is pretty straight forward: place custard in the vessel, add churning blade, cover and turn on. There are no other speeds. It takes about 30-35 minutes of churning.
  11. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, leave the ice cream in the churning vessel as you assemble your sandwiches. The vessel is still frozen enough to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Set an opened container in the freezer and build 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, placing them in the freezer as soon as each is assembled
  12. If you do not plan on making ice cream sandwiches, then once the churning is completed, transfer the mixture to another container, cover the surface well with plastic wrap and set to freeze a little longer, maybe 3-4 hours more before serving. The plastic wrap prevents the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream and also prevents the ice cream from absorbing unwanted “freezer flavour”.

Epilogue: these ice cream sandwiches are huge! And although at first the sheer size of them light a spark of delight in the recipients’ eyes, we all agreed that a half went a long way to satisfy. Therefore, I recommend cutting in half before serving. And since we had both chocolate and vanilla to chose from, those with a really sweet tooth could enjoy a half of each, back to back.

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Ready for one last chill!

When life offers you lemons…

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Don’t just limit the fun to lemonade!

Quite frankly, the day could not have announced itself with any more majesty than it had at that particular moment! Watching the sun rise, at first peeking timidly from behind Mount Vesuvius to suddenly quickly ascend to its full early morning glory was more than I had hoped for. Wow, what a scene and hurray for the early bird that I was!  Yes, this sunrise was maybe a tad more spectacular than most I’ve had the privilege to see in my life. The simple fact that I was on a beautifully appointed cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean may also have played a role in the euphoric mood of the moment… I just knew this was going to be another epic day! I stood on deck for a bit as the ship slowly made its way to port, welcoming the site of Naples with the giddiness of a school girl who’s about to wear her prom dress for the first time. I needed to share this moment with my King and flew down several flights of stairs to reach my cabin, barely touching the lush carpet under my feet. I just couldn’t wait to start exploring!image

From the moment we reached Salerno, our hearts were conquered and we fell head over heels in love with the land of lemon groves… Although we reached Salerno by tour bus, we were about to discover the Amalfi Coast by water. It was… Words escape me… Even two years later, as I write this post… I feel transported in that special moment in time. You know that feeling? When you are living an epic moment that is causing  your insides to flip and flop all over in sheer joy? When you need to pinch yourself to make sure you are actually wide awake and not dreaming? Yes, it was that surreal feeling that was taking over my entire being as we bobbled along the rugged coast line under the most spectacular azure blue sky. If I could have made time stand still forever, I think it would have been right there and then. We were feeling ageless and privileged: youth exploding from our pores, our skin glowing from sun and love and contentment.image

The town of Amalfi added to our awe and bliss of the moment. From the water, we had marvelled at the artfully layered terraces  of lemon trees, carved right into the rocky and steep mountain sides, the fruits so plentiful you could see them in the distance. As if an impressionist had purposely dabbed the greenery with a shower of yellow polka dots. Beyond the picturesque mosaic tiled roofs, beyond the old world charm, beyond the gazillion photo ops of weathered wooden shutters & narrow alleyways, it is the mighty lemon that stands tall and proud in this beautiful region. Amalfi oozes lemon everything: freshly picked lemons the size of oranges, lemon scented soaps, perfumes, desserts, gelato, pastries, Limoncello… Lemons are painted on canvas, on ceramic tiles, on paper… They adorned salt and pepper shakers and every possible kitsch plastic tourist souvenir from Amalfi “made in China”. Lemons, lemons, lemons everywhere. But if you must indulge in anything lemony, then nothing is more Amalfi “lemon authentic” than “delizie al limone” (lemon delight), a dome shaped dessert made of layers of genoise cake drenched in Limoncello and covered in sweet lemon cream. No one twisted our arms as we selected a prime seat at a little terrace in direct sight of the famous Amalfi church. We gleefully dug into a serving of this lovely cake, sharing an ice cold shot of Limoncello (obliged to partake, even at 10 am) and a semifreddo cafè crema, probably paying way more than we should have but not caring one iota! Our one-and-a-half-hour stop was merely a tease as we would have easily spent several days somewhere along this coast, basking in the warm sun and making our way through lemon scented menus…

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Although there are recipes online, I have not even attempted to recreate the scrumptious lemon delight cake of Amalfi. And I don’t really want to. Nope, these little creamy domes are not meant to be baked in my Canadian kitchen; they belong elsewhere. They are part of that travelling experience. I would rather visit again hoping to relive the joy of that moment, including a side of cold Limoncello and a view of mosaic tile roofs…

I am transported back to that magical place every time I grab a handful of beautiful lemons, especially when they come with a few leaves… I may not bake Amalfi Coast lemon delights but I hold my own with a few luscious lemon dessert recipes. Like these easy one pan lemon squares for instance: a shortbread crust topped with a rich and creamy lemon topping. They resemble nothing you would find in an Italian Pasticceria: they are truly a North American creation originating in the United States Midwest. According to my research, this popular dessert could very well be the brain child of the Betty Crocker™ Brand… But that is what the internet says sooooooo, may not be entirely true. Well regardless of where and when, these little squares are now hugely popular, many families handing their own recipe from generation to generation.  I find they are the perfect summer picnic/potluck/BBQ contribution because they can tolerate the lack of refrigeration for a while. They have the right balance of crunchy & creamy, tart & sweet. Refreshing too!  I have had this recipe for so long I now forget where it comes from. I wish I could give credit to the source of such wonderfulness so whoever you are, thank you!  And I love you and my family loves you and my friends love and I’m pretty sure the readers of this blog now love you too!!!

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LEMON SQUARES

What you need

For the Crust

  • ¾ cup butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp icing sugar

How to make it

  1. Heat oven at 325°F
  2. Grease 9X13 pan and line with parchment paper extending over long edges for handles. Then grease the sides only of the parchment paper well. It is not necessary to grease the bottom
  3. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Stir in flour in 2 additions. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and let cool in pan
  4. Topping: in bowl, beat together eggs with sugar until pale and thickened. Beat in lemon juice and zest, flour and baking powder. Pour over baked base, spreading evenly. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and center is set
  5. Let cool in pan on rack. Then refrigerate until very cold before removing from pan
  6. Gently peel the parchment paper and generously dust with icing sugar
  7. Cut into 12 squares (or more if you prefer)image

 

 

A Celebration of Old Classics: Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

Harvesting Dinner is barely two years old and I have enjoyed writing every single post!While I jumped in blindly with little direction, knowing only that I wanted to share my insane attraction to our edible world by writing recipes, telling little stories about my life, sharing the joys of eating out or the effects of eating too much, I didn’t know what personality this little diary of mine would take on. If I were to choose a new name, I may be tempted to select something like “Heritage Kitchen”, “Legacy Cooking” or “A Mother’s Pantry”, which would surely better capture the essence of this blog… I seem to gravitate towards heirloom recipes and stories; I am inherently attracted to the cooking of the mothers in my life… I love the mixed heritage of my kitchen where French Canadian, French (from France) and East European all collide with international cuisines! And I am deeply rooted to my family’s origins through the traditions and knowledge these humble home cooks have imparted on me. In my home, I tend to prepare the simple yet comforting dishes of everyday cooking when a budget needs to be respected and time is often elusive. Although I have the expertise to take on intricate recipes and I do enjoy cooking elaborate meals from time to time, this type of cooking does not portray what goes on in my everyday kitchen which is the one I share with you most often. I will seldom post dishes that require extremely elaborate preparations within this blog unless I decide to share a culinary experience that is well worth it. As simple as it is, my cooking is no less inviting: it is all about awesomely good food, warm & comforting, served with love and abundance, to enjoy in the presence of people who truly matter. Whether it is a simple weeknight tête-à-tête with the King , a small gathering of the family or a grand celebration, I aim to serve foods that beg for seconds and “take home” care packages. I also like to «be» with my peeps at mealtime and I will favour dishes that can be prepared ahead so that I am free to partake in all the conversations that are happening at the dinner table. I am definitely the queen of one pot dinners, of tough pieces of meat bubbling away  softly in a fragrant broth until they render their full potential and fall off the fork tender. I love simmered dishes the most: those that fill the house with mouth-watering aromas for hours until you can’t stand it any longer and must dig in. I also enjoy the carefree approach to summer grilling paired with fresh produces enhanced with perfectly balanced vinaigrettes.

I do favour simple cooking over intricate, that is for sure.  Yet, simple does not necessarily mean quick! There are times when you just need to soak things overnight, simmer all day or spread the prep over a day or two… The time spent preparing a meal is not a reflection of how difficult the recipe is; it simple means that the recipe requires a bit more planning. For me, simple cooking also means familiar: food prepared with “easy to find” ingredients (not too many) that are budget friendly. I love old classics and appreciate having been taught the rudiments of French cuisine: I can whip up a great hollandaise, make my own mayo, serve a silky smooth sabayon and bake bread. And although I often refer back to recipes for proportion, especially when it comes to baking, I can make a bechamel sauce without even taking a peek into a book!

One classic preparation I am particularly thrilled I have learned to master are crêpes; they are so versatile! They really are easy to make: the most difficult part of making crêpes (if one can call this difficult) is knowing how much batter to pour into the pan to ensure the right thickness and size. It really isn’t that hard: I always mess up the first one which I am sure I subconsciously do on purpose so that I can eat a hot crêpe right away!!! There are many things I love about crêpes: they can be done in advance, they can be sweet or savoury, they can be served hot or cold, they can be filled, rolled or drenched in syrups, whatever your fancy! They are neutral enough to be a perfect vehicle to an infinite combinations of ingredients yet are just as delicious sprinkled lightly with sugar… What matters most to make really great crêpes is time: the batter really needs to “relax” in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. It only takes about 10 minutes to whip a batter up in a food processor or a blender and just a tiny bit longer if you have to whisk everything by hand. What takes the longest is the cooking time as each crêpe must be done individually. There are pans that are specifically designed to make crêpes and they work extremely well. However, any good old frying pan you have on hand will do. I made crêpes for decades before I splurged and bought a crêpe pan…

This savoury crêpe recipe I am about to share with you is a long time family classic. It does require planning and involves several steps but none of them are difficult. What I like best about this particular recipe is that it can be prepared entirely in advance AND the ingredients are easy to find. Simply pop it in the oven one hour before serving. Pair with a nice crisp salad and you have a festive meal that will make your guests very happy!

I recently made this dish and took the opportunity to take plenty of pictures at every stage. Then our guests arrived and ya know, we got into cocktails and instant conversation… I was way too happy being with my friends than hidden in the kitchen and not only did I completely forget to set my timer, I also forgot to check in on the crêpes! A lovely intense smell of melted Gruyère eventually got my attention and as a result, I over baked the crêpes by a good 35 minutes. The verdict? Although the crêpes were still very delicious, they had absorbed most of the sauce. I hesitated to add the final picture because it should be much saucier but then I figured that mistakes happen even with the best of techniques and planning. So expect a saucier dish if you decide to make this recipe: that is how it should be 🙂

Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

This recipe serves 4 and can easily be doubled (I always double, left overs are great!)

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The result of overbaking: a little «dry» yet still delicious

 

Part 1 – Crêpe Batter

What you need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (250ml)
  • 1 cup milk (250ml)
  • 1/2 cup water (maybe a bit more) (125ml)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (2.5ml)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (30ml) plus 1/4 cup (65ml) melted butter for cooking

How to make it:

  1. Using a food processor, blend together the eggs, flour, milk, water and salt until well blended. With motor still running, pour in the melted butter and whip until well blended.
  2. Transfer batter in a jug or a bowl, cover and refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.
  3. Making the crêpes: strain the batter using a small sieve to remove any lumps. The batter should be silky smooth. Add  water if the batter is too thick, a little bit at a time: it should have the consistency of buttermilk or hollandaise.
  4. Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, coat the pan with a small film of butter. Drop about 1/2 cup of batter in the pan spreading quickly by tilting the pan in a swirl motion. How to video, click here
  5. Once all your crêpes are done, set them aside. You can stack crêpes in a plate, they will not stick together. Crêpes can also be done a day ahead and refrigerated : simply wrap very well with plastic wrap to avoid drying and refrigerate. Crêpes also do well in the freezer for a few weeks.image

Part 2 – Chicken and asparagus filling

What you need

  • 2 large chicken breast, with skin and bones
  • 1 onion, peeled and left whole
  • 2 carrots, peeled and left whole
  • 3 celery branches, with leaves if possible
  • 2 bay eaves
  • 1 tbsp salt (15ml)
  • 1 tsp pepper (5ml)
  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • 2 shallots finely chopped (or 1/2 cooking onion)
  • 1/4 cup butter (65ml)
  • 1/4 cup flour (65ml)
  • 4 cups milk (1l)
  • 1 tsp salt (5ml)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (fine grind)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, 35% (180ml)
  • 2 cups grated Gruyère* cheese (500ml)

*Swiss cheese will do but Gruyère really takes it to the next level… If you can splurge 🙂

How to make it

  1. Cook the chicken: In a large stock pot, place chicken, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add just enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a full boil on high heat, then reduce heat and cook over a gentle boil, partially covered. the chicken should take about 30-40 minutes to cook through.
  2. Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool before removing the skin and bones.
  3. Meanwhile, discard the celery and onion from broth. Remove the carrots and set aside. Strain the broth in a fine mesh sieve. Return carrots to broth and save for another time. The broth will not be needed in this recipe
  4. Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove skin and bones. Chop meat into cubes: this should yield 3-4 cups of chicken (750-1000ml). This variation will not impact the recipe much. Refrigerate
  5. Set a pot to boil filled with plenty of salted water
  6. Chop the shallots and grate the cheese
  7. Prepare the asparagus: clean well snap off the hard woody part off the stem, normally a lighter green that the rest of the asparagus. Cut asparagus in pieces about 1 inch long (2-3cm). Once the water is at a full rolling boil, add the asparagus. They will cook very quickly. I find that they are done once the water reaches the boiling point again, usually 3-4 minutes. As soon as the water starts boiling again, strain the asparagus and immediately immerse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Change the water frequently until the asparagus have cooled, strain and reserve.
  8. Make the bechamel sauce: in a mid-size saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to foam slightly. Add the shallots (or onions) and cook until translucent 1-2 minutes. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for an additional 23 minutes. The only trick here is that you want the flour to cook without browning. Slowly start pouring in the milk, whisking well as you incorporate. I usually add about half first, whisk well and then pour in the rest. To avoid lumps, it is best to use cold milk. Because this bechamel has shallots in it, you will not be able to strain it to remove the lumps. Add salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce reaches a soft boil and it has started to thicken. Remove from heat, whisk in the heavy cream. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap by sticking directly onto the sauce to prevent a crust from forming. Set aside to cool.image

Assembly:

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This is a double batch
  1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, the asparagus, 1 cup of cheese and just enough bechamel (about half) to moisten the preparation.image
  2. If you plan on baking right away, preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Butter the sides and bottom of a large casserole dish, like a lasagna dish for example. If you do not own a large dish, use two smaller ones.
  4. Spread the filling evenly between each crêpe. Roll by first folding the left and right side towards the middle, then rolling to close. Place the crêpes seam down in the baking dish. Do not stack crêpes on top of one another: if you run out of room, it is best tu use a second baking dish.image
  5. Spread the remaining bechamel evenly over the crêpes, sprinkle with cheeseimage
  6. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the cheese starts to take on a golden hue and bubbles lightly at the edges
  7. Let sit 10 minutes before serving

Notes:

  • The baking time may need to be increased slightly if the crêpes have been refrigerated
  • The entire dish can be prepared a day in advance, which makes it a great party dish!
  • This dish also freezes very well: freeze in individual portions for easy weeknight dinnersimage

 

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Some days dinner should be simple, like a sandwich or something. That is what I was hoping for last night but I had some fresh local zucchini beauties I needed to use up and there was a pack of chicken thighs already defrosted in the fridge. Sigh… I was not in the mood… Mood or not, I really had to find my mojo and get cooking. What to do, what to do??? Too lazy to browse through my collection of recipes saved everywhere: online, on paper, bookmarked, in magazines, in e-mails… Too tired to want to try something totally new… I also wanted to cook something that wouldn’t radically bust the calorie count; I didn’t want to ruin my “9km walking dowtown” day. Soooo, I opted for familiar with what I had on hand: onions, zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers and parmesan. A never fail pairing with chicken. The combo worked and by the time I had my ingredients sorted out, I found my second wind. It smelled divine in the house and we couldn’t wait to dig in.  I served myself just a little wee bit of pasta but the King, who has been blessed with a “piss me off” good metabolism, piled it on his plate with reckless abandon (his plate in the picture). I drooled with envy over his copious serving and cursed the gods of curvy bodies… He gobbled it up with a guilt-free conscience,  adding a few slices of über fresh sourdough bread from Bread and Sons, generously slathered with a thick coating of  Riviera Salted Butter (my new heart throb). Lucky man… Not fair… He had seconds… I went to water my plants lol!

Ok, enough with the pity party!! I could have ended up with a hard boiled egg and a sliced tomato… Instead, I got to enjoy a respectable serving of this really yummy and healthy meal! I hope this recipe inspires you: the instructions may seem long but I added a lot of details to help those who are really new in the kitchen. Don’t be intimidated, this meal is super easy to make…

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Because nothing evokes the Med life better than tomatoes, zucchinis and garlic simmering together…

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What you need:

  • 5 good size zucchinis, diced in big chunks
  • 1 generous tbsp olive oil
  • pepper
  • 6-8 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red, yellow or orange sweet pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 big tomato, diced
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • pasta or rice, enough for 4 servings (optiona)
  • grated parmesan

How to make it: 

I roasted the zucchinis first while I prepped the rest. It does cut some of the cooking time a bit plus add just that umph of flavour. I was able to cook everything else while the zucchinis were taking on a nice roasted flavour. I like to crank my oven up to 450F on convect roast to get a good char going on… For more ideas on how to maximize the use of your oven, I invite you to read an older post dedicated to this subject. You can skip this step and add the zucchinis with the onions and peppers at step 6.

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set grill rack to the upper middle position
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Toss the zucchinis with olive oil and pepper. Spread even,y on baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis will be ready when they start to have a nice brown outer edge
  3. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tsp salt and some coarse ground pepper. Add to the chicken and coat well, set aside
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large and deep skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat; add the chicken, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes on each side. You want to achieve a nice golden crust and cook the inside without over cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the onions, sweet peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Gather the remaining ingredients. Set your water to boil if you are cooking pasta or get started on the rice
  6. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Add the onions and peppers to the pan. You shouldn’t need any additional oil. Sauté until the vegetables start to caramelize then add the garlic and oregano. Toss a round a little until the garlic starts to soften without browning. If using, add the white wine and cook down until nearly all evaporated, 3-5 minutes. If you are not using wine, skip to the next step
  7. Check on the zucchinis… If they have a nice brown colour and have softened, they are ready to pull out of the oven
  8. To the skillet, once the wine has reduced, add the fresh & canned tomatoes and the  tomato paste. Stir to mix well.
  9. Add the zucchinis, stir and taste for seasoning. I added 1tsp of salt and some black pepper
  10. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables without burying completely in the sauce. Bring to a gently bubbling simmer, cover and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes
  11. While the chicken is simmering, cook the pasta or rice (optional)

Serve with a generous shower of freshly grated Parmesan although asagio, and romano would be honourable substitutes and fresh mozza, crumbled feta or goat cheese would easily enhance as well.  Everyone is happy 🙂

Side note: if in Ottawa, you must visit Bread and Sons on Bank Street, it is worth discovering!  I am not receiving compensation from these businesses, just sharing my appreciation for what they offer.

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When fall returns to haunt June weekends… Fragrant Moroccan Chicken Stew

Note: this dish can be entirely adapted to accommodate a vegetarian diet. In lieu of chicken, double up on the chickpeas and replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

It’s been cold, damp, windy and simply unspring like over the past few days… You are not playing nice Mother Nature! This kind of weather begs for a warm hearty serving of some sort of simmer. Not that I necessarily wait for cooler days to make this beautifully fragrant dish: I do not own a BBQ in my city home therefore summer grilling is reserved for the cottage. I must admit that not having a BBQ at home is a bit of a challenge, especially when the mercury hits the sizzling hot zone. On those days, I wish I could simply throw a chunk of meat of the grill, serve it with a huge salad and call it a day. Easy grilling days not being a dinner option in the city, my stovetop remains my “go-to” cooking tool, even in the middle of the summer. When the work days wipe any dinner creative energy out of me, on those days, our go-to easy summer meal is more likely to be a sandwich or an omelet. And I am very grateful for air conditioning which permits me to cook with abandon using a hot stove or oven even during heat waves.

For the most part, I cook a full meal nearly every night of the week. Well, ok, maybe not every night, that would be a slight exaggeration! I often tend to make enough to have left overs for at least a second meal… Sometimes we even get tired of eating the same stuff a few days in a row… Oh well, even though he is The King, he can’t expect to eat like one every single day!!! Like come on now, a girl needs to do other things once in while other than working and cooking right? Although Jamie Oliver and a few others try to makes us believe a fully cooked dinner from scratch can be dished out in 15 minutes, I beg to differ. There is absolutely no such thing as a 15 minute meal unless there are little minions living in your house who gather ingredients, portion the meats, wash all the produce, take out all the required ingredients and clean up the entire mess after you. I have no such minions, do you? I consider myself a pretty skilled cook, with solid organization and planning strategies. I can handle a knife with certain ease (although not a pro) yet dinner prep in my house averages at about 1 hour. I clean up as I go usually leaving only the service dishes and pots for the after dinner clean up crew (luckily, I have one of those). I do not mind that 1 hour prep time at all. I never set myself up for disappointment since I never, ever expect to make a meal under an hour… Except when there are recipes such as this Moroccan Chicken Stew! So simple and so easy to throw together that you wonder why you don’t make it more often!!! This one truly takes maybe up to 30 minutes to assemble including prep AND cleaning up as you go. And then, it takes maybe 30 minutes to cook (which allows me plenty of time to check what is going on in the world via my beloved I-Pad). When I last made this dish, it was ready to serve in less than one hour; almost faster than firing up the grills!

In Morocco, the weather is warm nearly year round and although they can whip up some fantastic grilled meats, some of their most famous dishes are slow simmers using tagines. Tagines are clay cooking pots with lovely cone shaped lids which allow the steam to build up, get caught up at the top of the cone, condense again and the trickle back down to the food, constantly bathing what is cooking inside and infusing all the flavours and aromas. I do not own a tagine (yet) but I have had the pleasure of eating delicious Moroccan food cooked in this traditional utensil. So even though the weather is very hot in Morocco, I bet these stews are popular not only because they are so delicious but most likely because they are very economical to make: they yield large portions of food using humble ingredients while showcasing masterfully blended spices such Raz el Hanout. Here is a interesting little tidbit info capsule that may also explain the popularity of tagines: fresh bread is sacred in this country and baked daily in wood burning ovens. Although the dough is prepared everyday at home, the raw loaves are brought to a communal oven where the master baker bakes all the loaves. These ovens are quite large and will retain residual heat for a long time even after the rush of bread baking has come and gone which is where the tagines end up later in the day to simmer slowly. Such stews, served piping hot over a bed of couscous, are always a crowd pleaser! My Moroccan Chicken Stew may not simmer slowly in a tagine nestled in a wood burning oven yet it still manages to evoke images of Marrakesh, white washed homes, blue mosaic tiles frescos and bustling spice markets.

I have adapted this recipe from Everyday Food by Martha Stewart which has now become a family classic because it is super healthy, packs a ton of flavour yet is so easy to make. There is no “heat” to this recipe either, for those who are sensitive to spicy foods.

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Moroccan Chicken Stew

serves 4 generous portions

What you need:

Don’t overlook making this dish because the ingredient list seems too long. Apart from the spices, there are very few ingredients needed and very little preparation required. You can replace Ras el Hanout with chili powder and garam masala (1 tsp each). Sumac and parsley add an extra dimension but can easily be omitted

  • 8 pieces of chicken, skinless, bone in
  • 2 cups of carrots peeled and cut into 1.5 inches long pieces then halved or quartered depending on the size of the carrots
  • 2-3 medium yellow onions, thin sliced
  • 1 small can stewed tomatoes, whole or diced (14oz or 400ml)
  • 1 small can chickpeas, rinsed or 2 cups cooked chickpeas (14oz or 400ml)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (500ml)
  • 1.5 cups dried fruits of your choice: figs, prunes, raisins, apricots**
  • 1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger or 1 tsp. dry
  • 2 heaping tsp. Ras el Hanout***
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. sumac (optional), adds a citrusy flavour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Plenty of pepper
  • 2 zucchinis cut the same way as the carrots
  • The juice of 1 lemon (preserved lemon pieces would be a great substitute)
  • A generous handful of fresh chopped parsley if you like but not necessary
  • Couscous

* I like to use a combination of thighs, drumsticks and halved breasts with the bone in because it yields maximum flavour. This dish can also be done with boneless chicken pieces of your choice which will slightly reduce the cooking time.

** I like to use figs and prunes which I cut in half.

*** Ras el Hanout has become much easier to find recently although if at all possible, I strongly recommend sourcing a good blend from a small spice store instead of a grocery store. Raz el Hanout’s personality varies from one master spice blender to another. It is the North African equivalent to India’s garam masala. It evokes sun drenched spice markets of the Mediterranean.

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How to make it:

  1. Now this is where it gets really easy: add everything to a large pot except the dried fruits, zucchinis, the lemon juice and the parsley.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes (15 minutes if using boneless meat).
  3. Add the zucchinis and fruit, simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package instructions. Couscous is normally ready in about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir lemon juice and fresh parsley in the stew
  6. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
  7. Ladle over couscous and serve.

Relay for Life, Bake Sale Mania & Chocolate Toffee Pecan Squares

It’s bake sale season at work and it’s all for a great cause: we are baking for Relay for Life.  You see, a little bit over a year ago, tragedy struck one of our own: our friend and coworker Danièle and her husband François lost their only child to cancer. A beautiful young woman full of hopes and dreams was taken away far too soon at the tender age of 15. She had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma less than a year before that and although she fought a valiant fight, she couldn’t stop the big C from taking over.

In April 2014, following her diagnosis, a community rose at once : classmates, family members, work colleagues, friends, friends of friends and even strangers put their efforts together to help however they could. Various fundraisers were held to support local and National organizations that offer help and hope for cancer patient and invest in cancer research. One of the fundraising organizations selected by our gang at work was Relay for Life: a 12 hour team relay walk  which happens in late Spring and early June in many communities across the country.  In total, 3 teams were formed to support our young fighter Flavie. We all hoped she would be doing the survivors victory lap the following year but sadly, Flavie left her loved ones in January 2015… As devastating as her passing was, it only rekindled the team’s will to raise even more funds. Our team members rolled up their sleeves and went to work raising funds. There were craft sales, silent auctions and other activities. It was also the birth of  Scone Monkey: a marathon of  weekly bake sales held nearly every Thursdays in May and early June. It went viral at work!!! Each week, the donations poured in while people happily munched on home baked deliciousness. We had no set price, simply accepting donations. If my memory serves me right, I think we collected nearly $900 in 2015 thanks to Scone Monkey. It was so successful that our colleagues started to ask if we would be doing bake sales again this year.  And so without hesitation, a bunch of us volunteered to be the dedicated bakers. I am always happy to bake goodies to share with my friends and family but I feel even more joy baking  to support such a worthy cause!  All proceeds go directly to team HopFlavie and donations are always welcome and greatly appreciated. Baking is my only way of participating this year as I cannot join the walking team due to an important life event in our eldest Prince’s life: his graduation ceremony from Cordon Bleu culinary school is happening on the exact same date (yeah, proud mama, had to plug that one in!!!).

On Scone Monkey days, bakers bring in muffins, scones, sweet loaves and treats of all kinds. Everyone has their own yummy favourite recipes and it is difficult to resist!!!  Seems my recent decadent contribution created a bit of a sugar buzz In our department and a few have requested the recipe. So What better place to share than right here on my blog!  Now before anyone gives me a bunch of flack on this one, I admit right off the bat that the ingredients for this recipe are not as “clean” as what I normally cook with at home. A few years ago, I made the switch to organic and local for health reasons. However, I do have a few old family favourites & classics  recipes that simply cannot be converted  to organic. Skor™ bits, Oreo Cookie Crumbs™ and sweetened condensed milk have just not yet made the leap. I stay hopeful that some day, they will but until  then,  you know, everything in moderation and without guilt…

These scrumptious squares have been in my repertoire now for over 20 years; they are definitely “special occasion” squares. I cannot quite remember the source of the recipe but I believe it was from a culinary magazine pop-out calendar. The original recipe calls for graham cracker crumbs only and slivered almonds. I introduced the Oreo™ cookie crumbs about 12 years ago and I have not gone back. As well, whether I choose almonds or pecans, I always toast the nuts ahead of time. The recipe will also work with raw nuts as well if you are short on time. When toasting the nuts, make sure they have cooled off completely before using.

This recipe, like many I share here, is super duper easy to make and requires simple equipment. If you have a bowl, a spatula, a cake pan, a measuring cup, an oven and some parchment paper, you are good to go! But don’t even try doing this without parchment paper: you NEED parchment paper!!!

CHOCOLATE TOFFEE PECAN SQUARES (or almond)

Processed with MOLDIV

What you need

  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup graham cookie crumbs
  • 1 cup Oreo™ cookie crumbs (see note below recipe)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup each: chocolate chips, Skor™ toffee bits and toasted pecan pieces or slivered almonds

How to make it

  1. Heat oven at 350°
  2. Grease 9X13 pan with butter and line with parchment paper (very important to line pan with this recipe).
  3. In large microwave bowl, melt butter.

    Melted butter and all the ingredients
    Melted butter and all the ingredients
  4. Stir in graham and Oreo™ cookie crumbs until well blended
  5. Spread in prepared pan. Press preparation evenly and firmly using either the back of a measuring cup or palm of your hand

    Pressing the crust firmly into the pan
    Pressing the crust firmly into the pan
  6. Pour condensed milk evenly over crumbs

    Add the condensed milk
    Add the condensed milk
  7. Mix chocolate chips, Skor™ bits and nuts. Sprinkle evenly over condensed milk
  8. Press preparation down gently

    Processed with MOLDIV
    Press gently not to disturb the crust
  9. Bake for 22-25 minutes or edges and center start to bubble gently. DO NOT OVERBAKE otherwise, the caramel becomes very hard
  10. Using small spreader, quickly loosen edges from pan while preparation is still hot
    Let cool completely before slicing
  11. To slice easily: cool pan in fridge. Once cooled through, flip onto cutting board. You may have to loosen edges again, but the lined parchment should make this easy to do. Cut the squares while the crust is facing up to reduce crumbling of the crust. Cut in 16 slices: 4 cuts on the width and 4 cuts on the length.

Note: Depending where you live you may not have access to these brand name items: Oreo Cookie Crumbs™, for instance, is a fine crumb made of dark chocolate wafer cookies. Graham cookie crumb is the same type used in making cheesecake base. You could easily make your own cookie crumb base by using any type of dry cookie wafer. In Canada, Skor™ bits are little bits of toffee derived form a candy bar of the same name. These bits are sold in the same aisle as baking chocolate chips or morsels. If you do not have access to such a product, I guess you could use brittle toffee and smash it into little pieces. Or you take a plane and come and visit me: I’ll be happy to bake some for you LOL!!!

Avocado Buttermilk Dressing

Ohhhh just another recipe ok? This one is quick and easy. I am home nursing my little me, waiting for antibiotics to take effect;  a bit of an impromptu day of R&R allowing me some play time on my blog between naps! YAY!!!

What is this gorgeous electric green creamy liquid? It is  Avocado Buttermilk Dressing! It is really oooooohhhh and aaaaaahhhh worthy! This is a no non-sense recipe and super quick to execute  if you have everything on hand, such as a ripe avocado!!! Grab your favourite squisher/pulverizing tool: power blender, Nutribullet™, food processor, it don’t matter. Throw in the flesh of 1 avocado (peeled and stoned of course), ½ cup buttermilk (or: yogurt, kefir, nut milk, you get the drift), 2 tbsp good oil, 1 medium garlic clove, the juice of one juicy lime (use 2 if the limes are juice stingy), a handful of fresh cilantro, stems and all, plus salt and pepper. Crank the power on until smoooooothhhh. You can add water if it’s too thick to pour. Ta da! I will be smothering my shrimps and salad with this hot number. Or dipping my crudités in it. Or dropping by the spoonful over tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas… Olé!

Surprisingly enough, this dressing will keep about 5 days in the fridge without browning…

Avocado Buttermilk Dressing
Avocado Buttermilk Dressing

 

Glorious Carrot Cake: it really is a salad in camouflage…

Of all the blog posts I publish, desserts are by far the favourite ones! There is something so attractive about everything «sweet»! I think most of us show some restraint when it comes to eating desserts but I think of all the recipes available in the world, dessert recipes draw the most attention, drools and yummy thoughts! I suspect it is because sweet endings are viewed as naughty foods right? Just looking and dreaming right? I mean, we really should eat vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and good oils daily for optimal health…  And for us omnivores, meat should be consumed in moderation… And we really, really should not eat dessert!?! Sugar has become the evil child recently (with reason) but nevertheless, I think we will always have this love hate relationship with sweet stuff! And just like with the consumption of red meat, I say sugar should be consumed in moderation (and not everyday). Yes, in moderation… AND when we do end up eating dessert, it should be delectably, sinfully delicious!! Forget factory made cakes with a questionably long shelf life and a never-ending list of weirdo ingredients. Nooooo, let’s not eat those, they are nasty LOL! Instead, splurge and dive right into the heavenly goodies your mom, grandma, auntie, sister, best bud (the male equivalent of all these titles as well) or your favourite neighborhood sweet shop have lovingly baked! Let’s face it, even those who do not have a real sweet tooth can’t help but be lured by the smell of freshly baked desserts!

In the heydays of my café ownership life, we lured (yes, we were sneaky like that) our clientele in with 2 things: the aroma of freshly baked goodies and bacon! Yup, bacon was as famous back then as it is now although the internet makes us believe it is a new fad or concept. Whatever: we oldies have known the power of sizzling bacon for a very long time. Anyhow, I digress… Back when I worked 14 hour days 6 days a week running my little shop, fresh «out of the oven» treats were my claim to fame. Lucky for me, I not only had my own arsenal of yummy recipes to pick and chose from, I also had access to a slew of amazing dessert recipes shared by my right hand woman, Laura SC. I have mentioned Laura’s talent and amazing recipes in past articles. I think she deserves a lot of kudos for her ability to whip up some of the best food I have eaten. As a matter of fact, some recipes that Laura has shared with me back then have become family classics such as this unbelievably moist carrot cake. And if you knew Laura, not only would you want her to bake for you, you would want to become her bud: she has that «bigger than life» magnetic personality,  is full of «joie de vivre», has a contagious laugh and is loved by everyone!!! Since you may not have the opportunity to be served one of Laura’s awesome treats, you will have to enjoy her baker’s touch by osmosis by baking yourself this carrot cake!

You can trust this recipe: it has been whipped together more time than most recipes are tested for any publication. It is quite easy to make but beware: once served to your loved ones, it will be requested over and over again. Until you can make it in your sleep LOL! Yes, the pictures are sparse: I only took a picture of the cake coming out of the oven and of a piece covered in sinfully delicious cream cheese icing.

Scrolling down beyond the recipe, I have included a few shots on how to easily line a rectangular (or square) pan with parchment baking paper. As usual, your comments on my recipes are always appreciated.  And frankly, since 2 cups of grated carrots and crushed pineapple are used here, I think this recipe should really be labelled salad, not cake!!! Happy baking to all.

Laura's Carrot Cake

Laura SC’s Infamous Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

What you need: (icing recipe follows)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2½ tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup oil (choose a neutral tasting oil, avoid coconut or olive oils)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can crushed pineapple, drained (14oz or 398ml)
  • 2 cups grated carrots

How to make it:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF and set rack to middle position
  2. Grease and line with baking paper a standard size rectangular pan, 9X13 (pictures follow at the end of the recipe)
  3. In one bowl, mix together using a whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and set aside
  4. In a large bowl, with a hand-held or stand-up electric mixer, cream together the oil and the sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time until well combined and fluffy.
  6. Add the flour mixture and blend until incorporate.
  7. Gently fold in the grated carrots and drained pineapple on low-speed or by hand
  8. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean
  10. Let cool completely before taking out of pan and icing

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Cream Cheese Icing

What you need

*this recipe makes enough to ice the top of two cakes or to fill and ice a layered cake. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few weeks and taste awesome on top of muffins and cinnamon buns…

  • 1 standard package or 1 cup of cream cheese, at room temperature (the type of fresh cheese used for making cheesecake. In some places, it is called Neufchâtel cheese)
  • ½ cup soft butter
  • 4 cups icing (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract

How to make it:

In a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held or stand-up electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and the butter until well combined and smooth. Add icing sugar and vanilla and starting at the slowest setting, gently mix in the sugar, increasing the speed as the sugar incorporates. Starting slow will prevent a puff of white sugar to pop out of the bowl and mess up the entire kitchen! Once the sugar is well incorporated, whip the icing at a higher speed until creamy and fluffy! Refrain from eating by the spoonful until you have iced your cake!

Lining a cake pan
Grease pan first with butter or oil
Grease pan first with butter or oil
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Trace the shape of your pan on a piece of baking parchment paper
Fold at the lines
Fold at the lines
using a scissor, make one cut at each of the four corners. This will create a small flap.
using a scissor, make one cut at each of the four corners. This will create a small flap.
Fold again, this should give a nicely shaped rectangle that will fit your pan perfectly
Fold again, this should give a nicely shaped rectangle that will fit your pan perfectly
Dab a bit of oil or butter on the «flaps» to secure them in place. Your pan is now ready.
Dab a bit of oil or butter on the «flaps» to secure them in place. Your pan is now ready.