Monday, July 29, 2013

Puréed Beets with Yogurt and Za’atar - IHCC Mezze Madness

I think I must have been mad when I chose to make this recipe! I love beets, but my family doesn't share my passion. Not only can they not get past the colour - doesn't everyone like pink? - but they don't care for their "earthy" flavour either. The recipe for Puréed Beets with Yogurt and Za’atar from the book Jerusalem, by featured chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi looked like an amped up version of beet tzatziki, a recipe I tried and enjoyed recently, but with enough ingredients to help mask the beet flavour.

Simple to make, it started with roasted beets to which Greek yogurt, garlic, hot chile pepper, za'atar and pomegranate molasses (my substitute for date syrup) were added. It was finished with a sprinkle of chopped toasted filberts, sliced green onions and crumbled goat cheese.

The flavour was bold and far more savoury than sweet in the end. The earthiness of the beets was noticeable so I was on my own in eating this, but the other ingredients played a large role in the final flavour, especially the yogurt and za'atar. The dip added some much needed zing to a mezze that included herby meatballs and whole wheat pita.
This post participates in I Heart Cooking Clubs. Please visit to see what others have made for Mezze Madness week.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shakshuka - IHCC Eggscellent

Shakshuka, a dish in which eggs poached in a spicy red sauce star, is one I've wanted to make since it received great reviews as the IHCC community recipe for April, and it fits this week's theme of eggscellent. Yotam Ottolenghi is the chef we're currently cooking with so I made the recipe from his book Jerusalem, a pared down version that focused more on tomatoes than bell peppers.
This recipe relied on Harissa, this month's IHCC community recipe, for its heat and some of its flavour, so I made that as well. The simple ingredients (red pepper, spices, alliums and hot chiles) are roasted, toasted or caramelized before being blended together with tomato paste and lemon juice to make this condiment. It's garlicky and spicy and very versatile; I've used it as a marinade for chicken and shrimp, spiced up some pasta sauce with it and used it in place of ketchup on burgers. Delicious!
For the shakshuka, the harissa is simmered with tomatoes, peppers, garlic and spices to form a thick sauce to which the eggs are added. The dish was spicy, tomatoe-y and a little sweet with richness provided by the egg yolks. It was a quick and delicious any-time-of-day meal that will be repeated often.

The recipes for Shakshuka and Harissa are from the book Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ice Cream Cake

One of my family's favourite desserts is ice cream cake. After paying inflated prices for them for years, I decided to make my own, something that turned out to be very easy to do.

The flavour can be customized to meet your preferences, but one thing I've learned is that oil-based cakes are best: they defrost quickly and remain soft when they're cold. Chiffon cakes and cake mix cakes work well but our favourite is this Easy 1-Bowl Chocolate Cake.

Chocolate - Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake with Chocolate Sauce***

Ice Cream Cake 


23cm/9" x 4-5cm/1 1/2-2" round baked cake, split horizontally into 2 layers*
1.5 - 2 litres ice cream, softened**
sauce or garnish of your choice***

* I like to use this cake leveler to split the cake evenly but a serrated knife will work.
** The ice cream can be softened at room temperature (1-1 1/2 hours) or in the microwave with a few quick 3-5 second bursts. Make sure to stir it as it softens so it's the same consistency throughout. It should be spreadable, not melted.
*** The recipe for Chocolate Sauce can be found here.


23cm/9" x 7.5cm/3" round cake pan 
plastic wrap
serving plate


cake pan
prepare cake pan
1st layer
put 1 cake layer in the pan
ice cream
spread ice cream evenly
First, line the cake pan with plastic wrap. Place one layer of cake in the bottom of the pan, cut side up. The cake will be inverted so this layer will be the top of the cake. Add the ice cream and spread it evenly with a small off set spatula.
2nd cake layer
add the 2nd cake layer
wrap well
wrap well with plastic
frozen cake
unwrap when ready to plate
Place the second cake layer on top of the ice cream, cut side down. Use the overhanging ends of the plastic wrap to cover the cake completely. Freeze for 8 hours or more. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer and peel the plastic wrap back from the cake.
inverted cake
invert the cake
messy sides
smooth the sides
smooth sides
ready to serve
Invert the cake onto the serving plate and remove the plastic wrap. Run a warmed bench scraper around the side of the cake to smooth it. Return the cake briefly to the freezer to set the side once again. Cover well with plastic wrap if it's not being served within an hour or 2. Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before slicing with a warmed knife.
Leftovers - if there are any - should be wrapped well with plastic wrap before being returned to the freezer.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spinach, Bresaola, Apple and Nut Salad and Coffee Granita - IHCC Potluck

It's hot and humid here and I'm trying to avoid turning on the oven and stove, but we still have to eat. I was in the mood for Italian so decided to cook - and I use that term loosely - with Tessa Kiros for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs Potluck theme. 
For a light meal for two, I made the Baby Spinach, Bresaola, Apple and Nut Salad. Simply dressed with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar vinaigrette and finished with shavings of Pecorino cheese, this dish was a fabulous combination of textures and flavours: crunchy, chewy, crisp and juicy, salty, tangy, sweet, and nutty.....every bite held something different. I love it when minimal effort (and cooking) produces something this good; toasting the almonds and pistachios was the extent of the cooking required for this dish!

I don't recall ever having eaten bresaola before, a definite oversight on my part. Like a beef version of prosciutto, it's chewy, salty, a little sweet, mildly spicy and a great foil for the tart green apple.
I didn't measure the spinach, just used what I thought was a generous amount for 2, and adjusted the dressing to our taste, using just 1 tbsp each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Served with some whole grain bread, it was light but satisfying.

An Italian inspired meal wouldn't be complete without an espresso and on a hot day, an icy version was the perfect pick-me-up.
Coffee Granita with Whipped Cream
Top chilled, sweetened espresso poured over crushed ice with swirls of whipped cream and you have this lovely dessert.
I sweetened the coffee and whipped cream to taste, using less sugar than the recipe called for, and added a little vanilla to the cream. Delicious!

The recipes for Baby Spinach, Bresaola, Apple and Nut Salad and Coffee Granita with Whipped Cream are from the Italy chapter in the book Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes, by Tessa Kiros.

We're cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi until September, but during potluck week we're given free rein to explore the recipes of any of the chefs that have been featured in the past. Check out IHCC to see what  chefs and recipes have been chosen by other members this week.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Easy 1-Bowl Chocolate Cake

I enjoy baking and though I like to challenge myself, most of the time I just want to make something that tastes good and will always turn out well. One of the most reliable and versatile recipes I use is for a super moist and delicious oil-based chocolate cake that can be mixed in 1 bowl with a spoon (or whisk) need to pull out the heavy equipment for this one! In addition, it uses basic pantry ingredients.

The recipe comes from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne and is the cake portion of the Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze; it can also be found here.

The recipe produces a large amount of batter as it's intended to make 3-8" layers. I've successfully halved the recipe, but since it freezes and keeps so well, I usually make the whole recipe. If I don't have plans for all of it, I use the extra batter to make cupcakes, since there's always a need for cupcakes!
prepared pan
Prepare the baking pans
sifted dry ingredients
Sift the dry ingredients*
dry ingredients
Give them a stir to combine
*With most cakes, I would skip the sifting step and just stir the dry ingredients together but you do want to remove the lumps from the cocoa powder so it's worth doing for this recipe.
sour cream and oil
Add the sour cream and oil
stir with spoon
Use a spoon to stir
add the water
Whisk in the water
The batter is very stiff at first so it's best to use a spoon at the start but revert back to the whisk once some of the water has been added.
vinegar and vanilla
Add vanilla and vinegar
add the eggs
Whisk in the eggs
finished batter
Finished batter
These steps take only minutes to complete, as fast as a cake mix to make but so much better!
round cake
Distribute batter among pans
cake strips
Don't forget the cake strips*
60ml/1/4 cup batter per cupcake
*I like to use these so cake layers bake level. I use Wilton brand but there are others available.

Because it's an oil-based cake, it remains soft when it's cold so can be paired with toppings and fillings that need to be refrigerated and it defrosts quickly so it's perfect in ice cream cakes. These are some of my favourite ways to serve it:

With just a dusting of powdered sugar.
In a layer cake with a complementary buttercream.
 In an ice cream cake, one of the family favourites!

I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. Please visit to see what everyone else is making this month.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Couscous with Oven-Dried Tomatoes - IHCC Fruit-full!

We're starting to see beautifully ripe and juicy local tomatoes, one of the glorious fruits of summer, so I put them to use in Couscous and Mograbiah with Oven-Dried Tomatoes for I Heart Cooking Club's Fruitfull theme, with featured chef, Yotam Ottolenghi.
Whole Grain and Israeli Couscous with Oven-Dried Tomatoes and Labneh
This is one of those multi-component dishes that seems to be typical of this chef but like most of these types of recipes, many of the parts can be made in advance.

The first element was the tomatoes, roasted with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar. I had them in the oven for over 2 1/2 hours but ran out of time; they weren't as dry as they should have been so my dish was more like couscous with oven-roasted tomatoes!
Oven-"dried" tomatoes
The second component was onions, fried crisp and golden brown, which were responsible for much of the flavour of the couscous.

Finally, there were the 2 types of couscous to be cooked: I used Israeli couscous instead of mograbiah, which is cooked like pasta, and whole grain couscous that was steamed in saffron-infused stock.

All of these ingredients were combined with some fresh herbs and a sprinkle of nigella seeds.
The final touch was labneh, a thick, tangy yogurt. I decided to try my hand at making it. It was easy but did require a few days, though it was mainly waiting time. I used only cow's milk yogurt and set it up as per the recipe, wrapped in cheesecloth and suspended over a bowl. After 2 days and an additional day of refrigeration, it was soft but firm enough to shape. It had a wonderful, intense yogurt tang and I particularly liked it rolled in dried mint and pepper.
Labneh in olive oil and rolled in dried mint and pepper
I must admit, this wasn't my favourite dish. With the tomatoes and labneh, (both were delicious!), I was expecting something that was brighter and more summery. The finished dish was quite rich, flavoured primarily by the fried onions, saffron and nigella seeds, robust flavours that seemed to lend themselves more to a dish that's served hot.......perhaps I would have enjoyed it more that way.

Additional notes: 
- a half recipe made a huge amount which easily served 4 as a meal or 6-8 as a side. 
- I used 30ml olive oil (for cooking the onions and tomatoes only) instead of 75ml for a 1/2 recipe and that was enough.

The recipes for Couscous and Mograbiah with Oven-Dried Tomatoes and Labneh are from the book Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Orange Salad with Pine Nuts

This is a beautiful, bright tasting salad that is very easy to put together. I love that not only the orange segments are used, but that the juice and grated zest of the fruit are as well to enhance the orange experience.
The greens - I used arugula - are simply dressed with a white wine vinegar-olive oil vinaigrette that has orange juice, honey and minced garlic added for extra flavour. I prefer a higher vinegar to oil ratio than the recipe so used only 60ml of oil. I also omitted the meat element from the salad though I can see how salty, dry-cured ham would be a great match to the sweet and tangy ingredients in the salad.
Topped with buttery toasted pine nuts, this makes an excellent starter or side salad.

The recipe for Orange Salad with Pine Nuts is from the book 
The New Portuguese Table, by David Leite.

This post participates in Cook-Your-Books, a challenge hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. Please visit to see what everyone else is cooking this month!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Blueberry Hand Pies - Avid Baker's Challenge

I consider myself an avid baker so it seemed appropriate to join a group of bakers in a monthly baking challenge with that very name. I've been following the group for some time but haven't participated before since I've been blog-less, until recently that is.

Baking from the King Arthur Flour website, the challenge for July was Blueberry Hand Pies. The results looked so fabulous, I decided to join in the fun this month, even though my post is late.

I'm so glad I did. These tasted as good as they looked: the filling had a bright, fresh fruit flavour and the pastry was buttery and flaky.

The first step was making the pastry. I find it ironic that the time of year with weather most conducive to producing an abundance of beautiful fruits for pie fillings is least conducive to making pastry! Despite the hot and humid conditions, with frequent pauses for refrigeration, I managed to do it.

The all butter pastry recipe was a little unusual in that sour cream was used in place of liquid, and it used the rolling/letter-folding technique of incorporating layers of flakiness into the dough, something I've not seen often in a pie dough. The resulting pastry had a nice flavour with a slight tang to it and was indeed very flaky, but also very, very rich - perhaps too rich?

The filling was a simple mixture of fresh blueberries, sugar and lemon juice, cooked just long enough for the berries to start to release their juices but still retain a fresh fruit flavour.

These were a huge hit with the family so I may be making them again (and often) before the summer is out.

If you'd like to try them, the recipe can be found here

Additional notes:
- I used 100g more blueberries than required - it's what was in the container I bought - but didn't increase the sugar and had no leftover filling
- I used 1 tbsp cornstarch as thickener in place of Instant Clear Jel but probably only needed 2 tsp

Please visit ABC to see the other bakers' creations.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Black Bean Gazpacho Salad

With just a few small changes, I've transformed one of our favourite salsa recipes into a delicious salad that's perfect on a hot summer day.

As the name implies, the flavour is reminiscent of that most refreshing of cold soups - gazpacho - so it's no surprise that some of the same ingredients are used: tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, garlic, onions, olive oil and vinegar. But this salad has the additional flavour punch of smoked paprika. 

As with gazpacho, no cooking is required, just a little chopping. Adding some cooked black beans turns it into a meal that serves 3-4.

First into the bowl......

The dressing:
olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, pepper

Either sweet or hot smoked paprika can be used. Though red wine vinegar works, I prefer sherry vinegar in this salad. 

Next, add 1 can of rinsed and drained black beans.

Followed by......

The vegetables etc:

tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, parsley, green onions, Kalamata olives
You don't want the pieces too chunky or too small, just a little smaller than bite-size (about 1.5cm). It's important to remove the seeds from the tomatoes and the cucumbers or the salad will be too watery.

After tossing all ingredients together.....

The finished salad:
It can be eaten immediately but actually tastes better the next day.

The original recipe for Gazpacho Salsa on which this salad is based can be found here.

I've made a few modifications to the ingredients:
- 3 tbsp olive oil in the dressing (instead of 6)
- 1 tsp salt (you can always add more to taste at the end)
- 2 thinly sliced green onions (instead of red onion)
- 1-540ml can of black beans, rinsed and drained (or about 480ml/2 cups drained cooked black beans)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Strawberry Tartlets - IHCC Paint the Town Red!

Ripe strawberries...sweet, juicy and very red...perfect for this week's I Heart Cooking Club theme, Paint the Town Red!
The appearance of local berries usually coincides with Canada Day on July 1st; I like to feature them in a red and white dessert made for the celebration. We're cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi so I chose Tartlets with Fresh Berries, a recipe for a crisp, buttery pastry shell filled with a divine vanilla cream that allowed the berries to be the star.
Strawberry Tartlet
Happily, this dessert was very easy to make. The only element that required much effort was the Sweet Pastry and that came together very quickly in a food processor. Canadian all-purpose flour is higher in protein than British plain flour so I used the same weight of a lower protein pastry flour, and a higher fat, European-style butter. The dough was a dream to work with and baked into a sweet cookie pastry that was perfectly crisp, yet melt-in-your-mouth tender. The added lemon zest in the recipe was a nice complement to the fruit filling.
Sweet Pastry with Mascarpone Cream filling
Not one to let food go to waste, the dough scraps were re-rolled and baked as maple leaf cookies.....not as tender as the tart shells from the first rolling, but still very respectable sugar cookies.
The Mascarpone Cream filling was, creamy and a little tangy, made of lightly sweetened mascarpone cheese and Crème Fraîche* with a little vanilla bean paste (instead of essence). Much easier and far more delicious than a traditional pastry cream and with no cooking involved.
I baked the pastry shells from frozen early in the morning (I had made and frozen them a week before) and filled them just before serving.

*Crème Fraîche 
This product is quite expensive here so I prefer to make my own for a fraction of the cost. There are several recipes for homemade on the internet....I use this ratio of buttermilk to cream and it always works:

1 Tbsp buttermilk
1 cup/240ml whipping cream (35% fat)

Mix the ingredients together and allow to sit, covered, 10-24 hours at room temperature until thickened. Refrigerate.  

The recipes for Tartlets with Fresh Berries, Sweet Pastry, Pre-Baked Cases and Mascarpone Cream are from the book Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi.