Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cherry Chocolate Loaf

There's no denying that summer has the best selection of fresh, local fruit. Peaches are my absolute favourite, but everyone loves the sweet, juicy, dark cherries from the Okanagan. The next best thing to dark cherries is dark chocolate, and the two together is a match made in heaven!

Whenever I buy fresh cherries I pit and freeze some, just for this cake, my husband's favourite. Since it was his birthday yesterday, I made it just for him...and some for us, of course...

Heat the oven to 350F and lightly grease a bundt pan (my preference) or 2 loaf pans.

 In the bowl of a stand mixer combine:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups  brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
5 ounces butter
1/2 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)

On  a low speed mix with the paddle attachment until you have a fine crumbly texture.

Measure out the wet ingredients:

1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

With the mixer running on low, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix until almost all combined.

Measure the cherries and chocolate:

1 slightly heaped cup of halved, pitted fresh (or frozen) cherries
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Add these to the batter and finish mixing until all combined.

Scrape into the prepared pan and bake until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Be sure you have batter, not melted chocolate chip on the skewer!

It takes about 50 - 60 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before unmoulding and allowing to cool before cutting.

Eat it warm, the cherries are juicy and the chocolate is melty....and you have the taste of summer any time of year!

  • The cake freezes well, whole or individually wrapped slices.
  • Make muffins instead: before adding the wet ingredients, remove 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture and set aside. Add the wet ingredients, cherries and chocolate and scoop into prepared muffin tins (it makes about 16 large muffins). Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the top, press lightly and bake.
  • Not a fan of cherries or chocolate? Switch the cocoa to flour, and the cherries to blueberries. Add some lemon zest, and you have an easy blueberry cake or muffin.
  • Serve it as dessert, warm with ice cream and fresh berries. Drizzle the top with chocolate ganache - heat 5 ounces of dark chocolate with 6 tablespoons of whipping cream in a double boiler until the chocolate is melted and you have a smooth, glossy, thick sauce.
  • Feel free to make the crumble topping for the loaf (not the bundt). Add chopped hazelnuts for texture and another level of flavour.
  • Use different spices....why not ginger or cayenne pepper? Almond extract instead of vanilla?
  • No buttermilk? Use plain yoghurt or sour cream and thin it with milk until you have the consistency of buttermilk. You can also add lemon juice to plain milk and leave it to thicken and curdle a bit before using it.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Caramel Nut Bars

These bars came about because there was about 1/4 cup of whipping cream in the well as a few different kinds of nuts in the drawer. It started out as a hiking snack for my husband and some friends; I had to freeze them to make sure there were some left for the hike! They are very rich, very decadent and one is never enough!

Start off by making the shortbread crust. Line a 9" X 13" pan with foil, this makes removal from the pan for cutting a whole lot easier, and also helps with cleanup. Heat the oven to 350F.

In a bowl combine the dry ingredients:

2 cups + 6 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup brown sugar

Melt 8 ounces of butter, and mix in 1 teaspoon pf vanilla. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix well to combine.

Before baking

 Press evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan and bake until set and golden, about 20 - 25 minutes.

After baking

Allow to cool. The crust can be prepared to this point the day before.

Next, the nuts. You need a total of 3 cups of nuts, roughly chopped. Use whatever you have in the cupboard. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the prepared crust and set aside while you make the caramel.

I used a combination of pecans, peanuts and cashews. Mine were all unsalted and raw, if one of the nuts is salted it will turn your bars into salted caramel nut bars...just try not to use all salted, it will be too overpowering for the caramel.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan combine the following:

10 ounces butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup (I use light)

Bring to a boil, and boil it for 6 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add:
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add these carefully as the hot mixture will bubble up and steam.

Pour the hot caramel over the nuts when it has stopped bubbling.

Put the pan back in the oven, at 350F and bake for 25 minutes.

Allow to cool completely, even overnight, before cutting into bars.

They may not be good for you, but they are definitely good to eat!!! Happy snacking...

Some other ideas:
  • Sprinkle the top of the bars with chocolate chips as soon as the pan comes out of the oven. They will melt and can be left to re-set, or can be spread over the bars to coat them with a layer of chocolate.
  • Drizzle melted chocolate over the pan before cutting. If you use white and dark, the effect is quite impressive for something so easy to do.
  • Use almond extract instead of vanilla.
  • Press the crust into a tart shell with a removable bottom. Follow the rest of the recipe, and cut the tart into slices and serve with fresh whipped cream for a dessert. This will probably make enough for 2  tarts (10" round).
  • If you are able to find ribbon coconut, use a combination of that and macadamia nuts for a tropical twist.
  • The bars freeze well.
  • If you do not have corn syrup, or don't have enough (as I didn't) use real maple syrup instead.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breasts

Everyone loves bacon, at least in our house!!! Combine it with chicken breast and you have a winner. I have adapted this recipe from a wonderful recipe book we have called "Mastering the Grill" by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim. I have included a link with information about the book.

The actual recipe is for quail, so I adapted it for chicken breasts as they are easier to find in the  grocery store. As I seem to have a bad habit of buying buttermilk, and then forgetting about it, I was glad to find this recipe. Besides using up the buttermilk, it produces a moist, tender chicken breast.

First marinade the chicken:

3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of chili flakes

Pour the marinade into a large resealable bag, and add 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Press the air out and seal the bag, and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

I have frozen the chicken at this point. Defrost before proceeding.

Make the rub by combining the following spices with 1/4 cup of brown sugar:

2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Remove the breasts from the marinade, allowing the  excess to drip off. Sprinkle the rub onto both sides of the breasts.

There will be extra rub, store this in an airtight container for another time.

Wrap each breast with bacon, using one strip of bacon per breast. I find it works best if you start wrapping at the wider end of the breast (where the wing would be), and work your way down, gently stretching the bacon as you go.

Secure the bacon with a toothpick.

In a hot pan, place the breasts, toothpick side up, and sear.

Turn them over and sear the second side, then place in the oven at 350F and bake until cooked through.

Remove the toothpick before serving!

  • If you want to make gravy, remove the seared breasts from  the pan, placing in another dish to finish baking. Use the searing pan to make the gravy, as it has all the flavour from the bacon and the rub to contribute...
  • This recipe works well with a whole chicken. Instead of wrapping the entire bird, just lay the bacon slices across the breast. This keeps the white meat moist while roasting.
  • The extra rub can be used for things such as flavouring roasted potatoes, a quick rub for kebabs, or add a pinch or two to rice while it cooks.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


Just like pizza, burgers are a tasty way to use up bits and pieces of cheese, vegetables and condiments. In  our house it's a build-your-own-burger event, with me grilling the meat, and everyone else pitching in to set out the fixings and create their own masterpiece...

First the actual burger patties:

 In a large bowl combine:

2 lbs ground beef
2 eggs
2 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
few drops ofhot sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Mix well with your hands, divide into 8 (we like them on the larger side, and they do shrink a bit when grilling) and shape into patties, about 4" diameter. Wrap well and chill. they can also be frozen at this point, in a freezer bag, laid flat. Defrost in the refrigerator before grilling.

  • Try ground turkey for something lighter than beef
  • Add chopped fresh herbs, or chili powder
  • Before pressing them into shape, push a cube of cheese into the centre of the meat and shape it around that. A nice gooey surprise in each burger!

  To cook them, heat and oil the grill, making sure it is really hot before putting the burgers on. Flip them once, halfway through cooking.

BBQ sauce and blue cheese

   After a couple of minutes I like to brush them with BBQ sauce, then top with the cheese of choice and allow it to melt while the meat finishes cooking.
BBQ sauce and white cheddar

I had about 3/4 cup homemade BBQ sauce from a pulled braised beef recipe sitting in the freezer that I chose to use up last night. It is slightly sweet, with a bit of an Asian slant, having hoisin sauce and soy sauce in it, very yummy!

 We had white and orange cheddar, gouda and blue cheese to use up.

Try goat cheese, feta cheese, boconcini, smoked cheddar,swiss cheese....

Now for the toppings:

 Slice, chop, dice, wash, drain whatever looks like it'll work!

Romaine lettuce
Mixed baby greens
Roasted red pepper

Sliced tomato
Sliced avocado
Grilled bacon (see cooking burgers above)

Try these other favourites of ours, or create your own:

  • garlic dill pickles, pickled beets
  • sundried tomatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes
  • roasted garlic mayo, basil mayo, regular mayo
  • dijon mustard, grainy mustard
  • mix brown sugar with ground black pepper, press bacon slices into this to coat and bake on a rack at 400F until caramelized and crispy, turning halfway through. Line the cookie sheet with foil or parchment to help with cleanup, and remember not to touch them until they have cooled....sugar burns hurt!
  • fried egg
  • grilled mushrooms
  • arugula, fresh spinach
  • potato chips
  • onion rings, raw or grilled or caramelized sliced onion
  • instead of buying buns, make the Focaccia with Caramelized Onion and Rosemary, and shape into buns instead of pressing out onto the cookie sheet

       Happy grilling!!!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Honey Garlic Scallops with Mixed Green Salad

With an abundance of mixed salad greens, 1 avocado and 1 mango to use, salad was an obvious choice. A quick stop at the store for some scallops, and dinner was turning out be pretty easy!

First get the salad greens prepped; I had the washed baby lettuces, but gave them a quick soak in cold water before drying them in a salad spinner. There was just enough citrus vinaigrette in the fridge from another salad a few nights ago. This was getting better and better...

Add  chopped red pepper and cucumber to the greens for colour and crunch. Set this all aside while the scallops are taken care of. Dice the avocado and mango and set aside.

The scallops I had were 20/40, which means there are between 20 and 40 scallops per pound. They averaged a diameter of around 1" , so I allowed 8 per person. First, make sure the little muscle on the side of the scallop is removed. It is a little rectangular piece, easy to spot, and just peels off with your fingers.

To give some sweetness to the scallops, and to enhance the caramelization that happens when you sear them, I decided to use honey, along with lemon and garlic to marinade them.

Mix together:
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon avocado oil
Pinch of salt and black pepper

Toss the scallops in this mixture to coat well and leave for about 15 - 20 minutes before cooking.

I also had a small piece of baguette and a bit of blue cheese to be used. The slices of baguette went onto a hot bbq to toast. While they were toasting the scallops had their turn on the bbq side burner.

To cook the scallops, you need a very hot pan. As their was oil coating the scallops from the marinade, a dry pan worked well. Add the scallops and leave to sear the first side, approximately 2 - 3 minutes, then turn over and sear the second side.

Scallops just starting to cook
Scallops with caramelization after turning

Toss the salad greens, red pepper and cucumber with your dressing and portion. Surround each salad with the diced avocado and mango and then place the warm scallops around the edge of the plate.

My husband wanted the blue cheese in the salad, so that was crumbled on top.

I wanted the cheese on the warm crouton, so this was my plate.

The honey emphasized the natural sweetness of the scallops and the tangy blue cheese complimented it.
All in all, an easy dinner out on the patio, just the two of us with a nice glass of wine. What could be better?

  • I used avocado oil, but feel free to try any oil you have. Something as strong flavoured as sesame oil will change the flavour profile of your salad, something mild like grapeseed oil will allow the flavour of the scallops to shine through.
  • If you like heat, try sprinkling the scallops with a pinch of cayenne pepper just before searing.
  • Scallops are very tender and almost creamy, and can overcook very easily. The same applies to marinading them, it is only to add flavour, so no acid is needed (citrus juice, vinegar)
  • Reduce balsamic vinegar over medium heat until it is thick and syrupy. Cool and drizzle over the seared scallops.
  • Enjoy chilled soups? Portion out your soup in a shallow bowl, then place 2 or 3 large seared scallops in the centre.
  • A salad like this allows creative freedom....have raspberries? Use those instead of mango.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Goat Cheese Tart with Grape Tomatoes and Fresh Basil

Tonight's dinner was a choice between using up blue cheese or goat cheese...guess which won? This tart is full of flavour, the sweetness and juiciness of the tomatoes, the tang of the cheese and lemon zest, and the pinenuts add a nice crunch.

As there was no pastry in the freezer I got that under way first. The recipe that works best for all types of pies, tarts and quiches is the shortcrust pastry from David Wood's Food Book. The recipe makes enough for 3 crusts.

I prefer to make pastry in the stand mixer using the paddle attachment, as opposed to in the food processor. It is too easy to overwork the dough in the food processor. The mixer takes a bit longer, but you end up with a nicer result.

Place 3 1/3 cups of flour and 9 ounces of cold butter, cut into small pieces, into the bowl of the stand mixer. If you are using unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly, with a few small pieces of butter (the size of peas) scattered throughout.

In a small bowl whisk together 2 egg yolks and 6 tablespoons of ice cold water.


With the mixer running on low, add the egg mixture. If the dough is still too dry - not starting to clump together - add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time, until the dough starts to form clumps. It is very important that you do not overmix the dough, turning it off in between additions and on only long enough to mix in the water. When the dough reaches the desired consistency, tip it out onto the counter and very gently press it into a rough ball.

The dough just starting to form clumps in the mixer .

A rough ball of dough, ready for dividing.
Divide the dough into 3 equal sized pieces, approximately 10 1/2 ounces each.

Gently press each ball of dough into a disc and wrap well with plastic wrap.

Place the dough for the tart into the fridge for 2 hours to rest before rolling it out.

Place the remaining 2 pieces of dough into freezer bags and keep in the freezer for another time.

To roll the dough out, allow the chilled dough to warm up for 30 minutes, before placing it onto a lightly floured board and rolling it out to approximately 1/8" thick, and slightly larger than a 9" tart shell. To stop the dough from sticking to the board, turn it a quarter turn every few rolls. Use flour sparingly, on the board and the top of the dough, just to avoid sticking. Too much flour will make the dough toughen up.

Gently lift the dough and line the tart shell.

Place in the freezer to chill while the oven pre-heats to 425F.

Using a piece of foil and some rice or dried beans as weights, bake the shell for 15 minutes. The foil helps stop the pastry sides from falling, as well as stops the bottom from puffing up too much.

Gently remove the foil. Turn the oven down to 350F. Place the shell back into the oven to allow the bottom to dry out. This should take about 5 - 7 minutes.
The edges of the crust will be lightly golden, and the bottom dry. If it bubbles up slightly, prick the bubble to allow the steam to escape.

For the filling, start by heating 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a pan, and adding 2 cups of grape tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes start to colour, then add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Cook for another minute or so, the tomatoes will just start to burst. Turn off the heat and add 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh oregano and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

In a bowl combine:
 6 ounces of soft goat cheese
 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
 1/4 teaspoon of salt
 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
 1 teaspoon of chopped chives
 1 egg

Spread this mixture onto the bottom of the tart shell.

Place the cooked tomatoes on top of the goat cheese filling and bake at 350F until the goat cheese is set, approximately 25 minutes.

After 20 minutes, sprinkle a few pinenuts over the tart so that they will toast during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Remove the tart from the oven and scatter roughly chopped fresh basil over the top. Scrumptious!!!

With a fresh green salad and some asparagus, a perfect patio dinner for a hot summer evening.

Some side notes: I did not realise how short of cheese I was when I set out to make this...I only had 2 ounces. A trip to the store was not appealing, so I decided to try using plain Greek non fat yoghurt for the remaining 4 ounces of cheese. Almost as thick and the same tangy worked perfectly! It actually cut the richness of the cheese a bit, and more than likely the cost.

Try different herbs, or even the baby heirloom tomatoes that seem to be everywhere right now, the different colours will really brighten up the visual appeal.

As for the pastry, having a round or two in the freezer is a huge bonus when you have leftover chicken and decide to make chicken pot pie...