Monday, 30 March 2015


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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Nutella-Inspired Frosting

Oh, Nutella.

Sweet childhood memories. Coming back from a cold and windy sailing practice to devour mounds of brioche spread thick with chocolate-hazelnutty goodness. Goodness? Well, sort of. Too bad that Nutella actually has more refined sugar and vegetable oil than hazelnuts. Too bad that it contains skim milk powder and reduced-fat cocoa instead of real, full fat stuff. Too bad that synthetic vanilla flavor is used in place of good old vanilla extract.
Do I still eat Nutella? On occasion. I do not ever buy it. But if I visit my parents and find a jar of Nutella, am I going to dig in? You betcha. And I'll probably spread it generously on a thick slice of homemade yogurt cake (recipe coming soon).
Because I am at home and not buying Nutella does not mean the craving never strikes.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself longing for a good simple piece of vanilla cake with Nutella. Enter this simple vanilla cupcake recipe from Simple Bites, topped with my own, homemade, Nutella-inspired frosting.

Nutella-Inspired Frosting: 

- 1 cup hazelnuts, roasted at 350F for 10mins, most skins removed (you could, of course, use 3/4 cup hazelnut butter instead, but I find the process of roasting and removing skins very therapeutic)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp milk
- 1/2 cup icing sugar

In a food processor, process the hazelnuts, salt and butter until creamy. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Add vanilla, cocoa powder, maple syrup and milk - stir to combine.
Add the icing sugar and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy.

This recipe will make enough for 12 cupcakes.


Happy Sunday!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mushroom Carbonara + Lemon Tart

Here I am again!

As promised, I have to brag about share my lemon tart recipe. It is my second attempt to re-create the fabulous lemon tart that we had at Villa Valentina in Mexico. For the first try, I just followed a highly rated recipe from, which I found way too sweet, and lacking texture. So, for attempt #2, I just winged it,! Let's just say that there is no need for a third attempt.

But today, we are going all traditional and not eating our dessert first. I just made a simple mushroom carbonara (a pasta dish traditionally made with bacon) - and that's our main course today. It comes together in just 15 minutes and makes an easy and comforting weeknight dinner. Here is my take on my childhood's carbonara, which I tweaked to include cremini mushrooms, green onion, spinach and pine nuts. Enjoy!

Mushroom Carbonara for Two:

- 200g of your favorite noodles (penne, spaghetti, shells etc)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
- sea salt / black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 Tbsp Parmesan
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup fresh spinach

In a large pot, cook the noodles al-dente.
While the noodles are cooking, sauté the garlic and mushrooms in olive oil (use a pan large enough to hold all the ingredients in the end) until soft - it should take about the same amount of time as it takes to cook the noodles, about 10 minutes. Season with salt + pepper.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, egg yolk, parmesan and mustard.
Drain the noodles and add them to the garlic/mushrooms.
Add the cream mixture + pine nuts and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes, until the noodles are coated and everything is piping hot.
Add the green onion + spinach and stir.
Remove from heat as soon as the spinach starts wilting and serve immediately.


Lemon Tart: Makes one 9 inch pie - I halved the recipe to make 2 individual tarts.

For the crust: 

- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp good quality mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 Tbsp cold butter, cubed
- 6 Tbsp cold water

In a food processor, combine the flour and sugar. Add the mayo, vanilla and butter, and pulse a few times until the butter is reduced to coarse crumbs. Add the water 2 Tbsp at a time, and pulse until the dough starts to come together.
Form the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic film. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Lightly grease a 9 inch tart pan. Roll the dough out to fit the pan. Place into pan, trimming any excess. Prick all over and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Bake the cold pie crust for 12-15 minutes. If you have pie weights, great - that will prevent the crust from bubbling. What I do is place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the crust and fill it with coins. Dried beans work too.
Let cool completely before filling.

For the filling: 

- 4 eggs
- 4 lemons, juice + zest
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, whisk all the ingredients together, except for the flour. Sift the flour in last and mix until well combined.
Pour the filling in the crust and bake until set, about 30-35 minutes.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Weekend in Baking Heaven

Baking Heaven?

My kitchen. There is nothing that makes me happier than experimenting in my kitchen. And this weekend, I had three glorious days to do just that. I cooked and baked and baked and cooked some more. Most of the recipes turned out amazingly well - sometimes, you just hit a stride.
Here are a few of them.

This first one is my version of a traditional French "Galette à la Frangipane" - we'll just call it an almond pie. I made it for a potluck we were having at the office on Friday, and it is fair to say that it got rave reviews. It is incredibly easy to make, thanks to "cheating" in the crust department - I bought ready-made puff pastry. It literally takes DAYS to make puff pastry, so I thought that a good quality, pure butter puff pastry (President's Choice makes a decent one, thanks President!) would have to do. As for the filling? Easy as pie.

Pardon the poor quality picture...It had to get in my mouth, and fast. 

Almond Pie:

- 2 sheets puff pastry (1 package), thawed according to package instructions
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1tsp milk
- 1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.
Grease a pie dish and place one of the sheets of puff pastry in.
In a food processor, process the almonds until a coarse meal forms (texture of coarse sand). Transfer almond meal to a mixing bowl.
Add the eggs, vanilla, butter and salt. Whisk until smooth.
Pour the filling into the crust, and cover with the second sheet of pastry. Make sure to get a tight seal by brushing cold water on the bottom crust with your fingers, then pressing the edges together.
In a small bowl, combine milk and olive oil. Brush the top crust with this mixture.
Bake for about 30 minutes, and serve while still warm. YUM.


This next one is adapted from my chocolate-espresso tart. The crust is made healthier, and the walnuts have been replaced with hazelnuts for some Nutella-inspired deliciousness.

Chocolate-Hazelnut-Espresso Squares: 

For the crust:

- 1/3 cup dates (about 10), soaked for a few hours if not soft
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted at 350F for 8 mins, most skins removed
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350F. In a food processor, puree the dates with the butter and vanilla. Add the hazelnuts and pulse a few times, until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Add the maple syrup and salt. Mix in the flour, 1/3 cup at a time.
Line a square pan with 2 criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper. Press the crust into the bottom of the pan, and bake for 18 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

For the filling: 

- 1/2 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hrs and drained
- 1 cup hazelnuts, soaked for at least 4 hrs and drained
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup brewed espresso
- pinch of salt

In a small pot, melt choc chips with espresso, cocoa powder, salt and vanilla.
When melted, pour into a food processor with the cashews, hazelnuts and maple syrup.
Process until smooth and pour onto crust.
Freeze for at least 4 hrs, until set.
Let stand for 10-15 mins at room temp before cutting into squares and serving.


The following eggplant casserole is all about perfectly simple flavours. It makes a great vegetarian entree paired with a salad, or a nice side dish to some grilled chicken or salmon.
It takes a few hours to for it to come together, so it is the right project for a lazy Sunday.
Thankfully, it can be assembled in advance, waiting patiently in the fridge to be baked - up to 48 hrs.

Eggplant Casserole: 

- 2 large purple eggplants, sliced and soaked in salt water for 3-4 hours (or overnight), then drained and dried with a paper towel
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid
- 1 5.5oz can tomato paste
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 Tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp ground flax
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup ricotta, divided

Preheat oven to 425F. Roast the sliced eggplant on a cookie sheet with a sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil for about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce:
Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, cream, honey, flax, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 35 minutes, until thick and chunky.
Reduce oven temp to 350F.
In a square casserole dish (8x8), start with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top. Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta on top. Repeat with a layer of tomato sauce, eggplant, ricotta, then add the last of the tomato sauce and cover with the shredded mozzarella.
Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, then broil for a few more minutes until golden brown and bubbly.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


That is all for now folks - I just made and enjoyed a killer lemon tart that I will share in the next few days - it is so good that it deserves its own blog post (plus it's bedtime)!