Mediterranean Couscous Salad

I am in love with this salad! It is such a wonderful Summer dish, and perfect for picnics too. I used Israeli couscous, but you could use regular couscous, or even quinoa. Keep in mind that this is a cold salad. When you season it, remember that your taste buds will close up, and taste less seasoned once it’s cold. 

Here’s what you need:

- 2 cups uncooked, Israeli couscous

- I clove garlic, minced

- 1/4 cup dry chickpeas

- 3 T olive oil

- 1/2 T red wine vinegar

- 1/2 T balsamic vinegar

- 1/2 t dried oregano

- 1 T fresh rosemary

- 2 T fresh parsley

- 1.5 T coriander

- 1.5 T cumin

- 1.5 T cinnamon

- Salt to taste

- 1/3 C pitted kalamata olives, halved

- 1/3 C feta cheese, crumbled or cubed

- 1 cup sun dried tomatoes

To start, I usually don’t soak the beans, I just simmer them slowly. Place the couscous in a pot with 3 cups of water. Simmer until done. 

Meanwhile, combine the online oil, both vinegars, and the oregano. 

Once the couscous is done, toss the garlic clove in, while still warm. 

Add the vinaigrette, spices, and herbs. 

Rehydrate the tomatoes by covering with boiling water and let sit for 2-5 mins. Slice the tomatoes and add to the salad. Add the cheese and olives. Toss in the chickpeas. 

Remember to season again once the salad is totally cool, adding any salt as needed. 

I served this salad with a fresh, green salad and seared halibut. I am looking forward to taking it alongside sandwiches, cheeses, meats, and other salads on a picnic, maybe for Canada day fireworks. 

 

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

So, a few weeks ago, I went to meet boyfriend’s family (eek!) for Easter dinner. I wanted to bring something and thought pie would be a good host gift. It was a huge hit! Traditionally, banana cream pies just have fresh bananas on the bottom, with a vanilla custard. This pie has the warmth of the cooked bananas with brown sugar and rum, balanced with the cool flavours of the bajada custard. I hope you enjoy this pie as much as we all did. 

This is a good pie to work on while you’re at home for a day, or over a couple days as each layer needs to cool before you add the next. There are essentially four parts. 

Note: my favourite rum to drink and cook with is LemonHeart rum. It is impossible to find in the States, so if you are having troubles finding it, look for a smooth, dark rum. It should be one that you would drink too, as the flavour will appear in the pie. If you want to make this pie alcohol free (most of the alcohol does cook off), just cook the bananas without the rum. 

You will need:

- A bottom pie crust

- 3T butter

- 3T brown sugar

- 2 bananas, peeled and sliced

- 1/4 cup dark rum (optional)

- 3 egg yolks

- 3/4 C sugar

- 2 T flour

- 3 C whole milk

- 1 vanilla bean

- 1 T butter

- 2 t banana extract

- 3 egg whites

- 1/4 cup sugar

- water

To start, blind bake the bottom pie crust, by docking the crust (poking holes with a fork, so that steam can escape and won’t puff the crust up too much), and weighting it. Let cool. 

Next, melt the first amount of butter over medium high heat. Add the sugar and stir until smooth. Add the bananas and cook about 2 mins to caramelize. Add the rum and use a BBQ lighter to flambé. Cook until the flames burn out and the mixture is dry. Spread into the bottom of the pie and cool. 

Next, Mix the yolks with the sugar. Stir in the flour. scrape a vanilla bean into the milk and steep the pod. Bring the milk to a boil and temper in the egg yolks mixture, by slowly stirring the milk into the yolks, then pouring the yolks back into the pan. Cook gently until thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and extract. Pour over the banana and cool. 

Last but not least, make a meringue to top the pie with. This step can be skipped if you prefer a naked pie top, or be replaced by whipped cream. If you have read my post on lemon meringue pie, you will know that I like to make an Italian meringue which is cooked  without using the oven, then toasted with a kitchen torch. This prevents overcooking the custard filling which can break the custard and make the pie watery. To do this, whip the whites to a soft peak in your mixer. In a small pan, add the sugar, then just enough water to wet the sugar. Heat to 240 F. Crank the mixer all the way up and slowly pour the sugar over the whites, while mixing. This will cook the whites. Keep whipping the whites until they have cooled to room temperature. The sugar will deflate the whites a bit, but they will puff back up again. Top your pie and toast the tops. Keep chilled and enjoy!

Kale Chips

I love kale chips! They are delicious and nutritious. Not to mention easy to make and customizable. You can buy them from health food stores for a pretty penny, or you can spend a couple minutes and make them yourself.

All you need:

- Kale (washed and dried)

- Olive oil

- Salt and pepper, or other seasonings

To start, tear evenly sized pieces of kale, removing the crunchy stem pieces from the middle. Lay them on a baking tray. Use a pastry bush to brush oil onto the kale, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, or other spices. I love to use garlic salt. Bake at 300 F until the kale starts to crisp up.

I love these as a snack when I want junk food, but don’t want to eat my entire daily calorie count in one go. Try putting them out at a BBQ to go with burgers and such, instead of chips.

Enjoy!

Pizza Night

So, tonight was pizza night. You may notice that I have been using sage and bacon a bit. I love doing stuff like pizza to use up left overs and I wanted to make this one gourmet. I did a California style pizza, meaning I didn’t use traditional tomato sauce. Instead, I used a roasted garlic béchamel. I paired it with home made kale chips for a mock junk food night. With this one, I didn’t really use measurements. Instead, use as much or as little of each ingredient as you want. If you hate something, leave it off, or leave it off of half. If there’s something you love, add as much as you’d like. My only warning is that too much cheese can prevent the pizza from baking. Just have fun with it. 

You will need:

- Pizza dough, homemade or store bought

- A head of garlic

- Butter

- Flour (The same amount as the butter)

- Milk

- Mozzarella cheese

- Old cheddar cheese 

- Goats cheese

- Bacon

- Sage

- Mushrooms

- Salt 

- Pepper

- Truffle salt or oil

To start,  roast a head of garlic until fragrant and soft.

Then, render the bacon fat over medium heat. Once slightly crisp, remove the bacon and fry the sage leaves in the fat. Then add the sliced mushrooms and sauté. Set aside when done. 

In another pot, melt the butter. Stir in the flour until combined, then add milk until desired consistency is reached. Put in a blender with the peeled, roasted garlic and combine. I don’t worry about making it perfectly smooth, but you don’t want big chunks of garlic. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. 

Oil two pizza pans and press the dough into each. Spread on the sauce, then top with the cheddar and mozza cheeses. Sprinkle the bacon, sage and mushrooms, finally topping with the goats cheese. 

Bake at 450 F until the crust is golden brown on the edges and the cheese is just starting to brown. 

Sprinkle with the truffle salt and let set for 5 mins. 

As far as the dough goes, you can find many recipes online for a simple dough, mixed by hand in a bowl and that will need very little resting time. I mixed mine up before I started the pizza and it was ready to go by the time I finished prepping the rest of the ingredients. You can find whole wheat recipes as well, and add ingredients like flax seed to make it healthier. I would have loved to add parmesan cheese with this particular pizza. 

 

Bacon, Sage Gnocchi

There should be a law that says, “Don’t shop when you’re PMS-ing”, similar to the “Don’t shop when you’re hungry” rule. So, I was in the grocery store the other day, buying some cheetos, ice-cream, and salad (yup), when I saw the gnocchi and figured I could go for some of that too. I brought it home and the next night, I made it for dinner. I wanted something quick and yummy, because you know how it is at times like these. This is what I came up with. 

You will need: 

- a package of gnocchi, or homemade, which is about 10x better (Aprox. 2 cups)

- 4 slices of bacon

- butter, as needed

- about 6 sage leaves, more or less depending on taste and size of leaves

- 1/8 cup of parmesan or asiago cheese, more or less depending on taste

Directions:

Heavily salt a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the gnocchi once the water has reached a boil, stirring frequently. 

Dice the bacon and heat it over medium low to render the fat, and crisp the bacon.

Once bacon is done, remove from the pan and add enough butter to cover the bottom of the pan. Add whole sage leaves and fry until crisp. Remove from pan. 

By now, the butter should be browned and the gnocchi should be floating, signifying it is cooked. 

Add the gnocchi to the pan and coat with the butter. Add the cheese. The heat should be low. The gnocchi is already cooked, so the purpose of this is just to help coat the gnocchi, and melt the cheese a little. 

Add the bacon, and crumble in the sage leaves just long enough to re-heat. 

Serve with grilled asparagus or a salad. 

Gnocchi is a potato dumpling, usually sold in the deli area, near the fresh pasta in a grocery store. Gnocchi should be light and feel almost like a cloud on your tongue. Homemade always turns out the best, but is delicate to work with. You can purchase a gnocchi board from kitchen stores, which will help put those little line, indentations in them, or you can just use a fork. They help hold the sauce used on the gnocchi. As much as I promote making your own, it is a more difficult and time consuming task, so store bought is a good substitute. 

 

Strawberry, White Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, I was looking perusing pinterest the other day and saw a recipe for strawberry chocolate chip cookies on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Look yummy, right? The thing is, I always try not to use cake mixes. I know they’re quicker and easier, but I still decided to try and come up with my own recipe. I think I found a winner. All I can say is that I’m getting these out of my house as fast as possible, before I eat them all! 

I know strawberries and chocolate are delish, but I decided to do white chocolate chips. You could easily substitute milk or dark chocolate chips though. You may also want to add some red food colouring to get a nice pink colour in them. 

Here’s the recipe I used:

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup sweetened strawberry puree, store bought or home made

1 tsp vanilla

3 tsp strawberry extract

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 cups flour

2 cups white chocolate chips (about 2 packages) 

 

To begin, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. 

Add the egg and extracts. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the puree. Beat until well combined. 

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add to bowl until combined. 

Stir in chips. 

Drop tablespoons in a lined sheet tray and bake at 350F, until golden around the edges. 

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. 

Melon Mojitos!

This was one of those creative concoctions that come about when you only have some random things on hand. I had a bunch of mint and thought mojitos would be the perfect idea. A friend had rum, but only melon Malibu rum. It worked!

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I’m not a bar tender, I don’t have any fancy bar tending tools, and I wanted the drinks on the spot. Instead of muddling the mint, we steeped it in a simple syrup. You’ll have left overs of the syrup, but it stores pretty well, plus it’s good in hot or iced brewed tea, or you could use it in other drinks. The syrup does need to steep for a bit. The longer you leave it with the mint, the mintier it will be. If you’re rushing it and want a mintier flavour, you could also add some mont leaves to the glass and bruise them a bit to release the oils.

I used unprocessed sugar for the pictures, which is why it looks a little darker. Either kind of sugar will work. I made it with regular white sugar the first time. It doesn’t matter which you use.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

- 1 cup sugar

- 1 cup water

- 6- 8 stems of mint (no need to pick the leaves off)

- 2 oz melon Malibu rum

- 1/2 can soda water

- Mint buds for garnish

First, you’ll need to make the simple syrup. Combine the sugar and water and place in a pot. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and add the mint. Let cool.

Add some ice (I used those plastic, freezable things to prevent melting, wateriness) and add about 4 Tbsp syrup (add more if you don’t find it sweet enough). Add the rum, then fill with soda. Stir or place another glass overtop and shake.

Garnish with mint leave and enjoy!

Steak with Port Wine Reduction

I made this luxurious, yet pretty simple meal a few days ago and I must ay, it was received pretty well. I served the steak with green beans, but it would go amazingly with sauteed kale. The deep greens compliment the rich, full bodied flavours of the steak and port. Serve it with a side of crusty bread or garlic bread and your set!

Here’s what You’ll need:

- 2 steaks

- 1/4 cup Port wine

- 1/2 a shallot

- 6 Tbsp butter

- Salt and pepper

To start, generously season the steaks with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan with some oil and add the steaks, searing on both sides. Place the steaks in the oven at 375F with  about 1 Tbsp of butter on the top of each. 

When the steaks reach your desired doneness, remove from the oven and let rest on a plate or board. Using the same pan, add about 2 Tbsp of butter and melt. Add the shallots, finely minced and sauté until soft, but not browned. Add the port and reduce to desired consistency. Remove from heat, and add the last of the butter. 

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You can strain the shallots out or leave them in. Pour over the steaks and enjoy!

Tips for a perfect Lemon Pie

So I’ve been asked a couple times recently, “what went wrong with my lemon meringue pie?” Lemon meringue is beautiful and Summery and a perfect balance of sweet and tart. The usual lemon meringue pie is written for home cooks and designed to be easy. They do sometimes flop. The heat from the oven for example, can break the emulsion of the lemon curd. The more you heat a thickened substance, the more it loses it’s thickening strength. To prevent this, I suggest cooking each layer on it’s own and it has some other benefits too. 

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Here is how I would recommend you adapt your recipe to follow these tips. But, for a great pie, you need to start with a great crust. 

- First, I think there’s a huge difference between store bought and home made pie dough. Of course I might be biased. My Mom used to always make her own pie dough and my Dad claimed that was the only pie he’d eat, so I grew up with that belief. 

- Always use the flour called for in the recipe. Different flours have different amounts of protein and using an all purpose flour when the recipe calls for pastry, will make your dough heavy and gummy, not tender and flaky.

- To make pie dough, sift all the dry ingredients. Not for measuring. You can measure before that. Although, the best way to measure your baking ingredients is to weigh them. You get a much more accurate measurement. Sifting just removes the lumps so you don’t end up with a dough with dry, floury bits. 

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- The fat you use, whether your recipe calls for lard or butter, should be cold. Cut it into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender or dice with a knife and use your fingers to blend the fat. Over mixing is your enemy here. You want a chunky mixture. 

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- Use cold water, or milk or buttermilk. Whatever liquid you use, make sure it’s just out of the fridge, cold. Mix it just enough to bring the dough together. 

- Rest in the fridge for several hours or overnight. 

- Try to use only as much dough as you will need for the pie to prevent over working. 

- Roll the dough thin and press into the corners of the pie plate. (Where the bottom meets the sides). 

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- Leave the dough higher than the sides of the plate since it will shrink in the oven. 

- Flute the edges and put in the fridge to help it hold it’s shape in the oven. 

- Dock the bottom of the pie dough by stabbing it with a fork. This prevents steam from getting trapped and expanding upwards. 

- Weight with beans on top of a piece of parchment paper to prevent the dough from puffing up. (Keep the beans and use again for every pie you need to weight- just don’t try and cook with them now.)

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- Bake until done all over and the edges are golden brown. You can wrap the edges in tin foil if they brown too fast and the rest of the dough is not done. 

- Cool on the counter. 

- For the curd, always use real lemons. You can really taste the difference in store bought lemon juice and fresh squeezed. It might be cheaper, but I only used about 4 lemons and only the zest of one. So, you can use the zest for other things as well, but it adds tons of sweet, lemon flavour too. 

- Follow the stove top directions to make the curd, but bring to a boil and boil for a full minute to cook the yolks so they are safe to eat. Stir in the butter once off the stove. 

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- Let the curd cool, just a touch before pouring it into the cooled pie shell. Don’t let it cool too much as it will start to set pretty quickly. 

- Cool the pie in the fridge. 

- For the meringue, make an italian meringue, where the sugar is cooked with about 20% it’s weight in water to 240-250 degrees F and is then poured over the egg whites at soft peak stage, while they are being whipped. Adding the hot sugar cooks the whites so they are safe to eat, but be careful. The sugar can cause really sever burns at this temperature. 

- Top the chilled pie with the meringue, spreading with a spatula. 

- Use a kitchen torch to brown the top of the meringue, moving the torch, constantly to prevent scorching. 

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- Keep in the fridge and make sure the whole pie is thoroughly chilled before cutting to keep the layers thick and holding their form. 

- When cutting the pie, dip the knife in warm water and wipe it dry after each cut. This will keep the beautiful layers pure and prevent them from blending. 

Enjoy your pie and send me your own tips. 

Orange Scented Caramel Sauce

I put this sauce on top of my Orange, Vanilla bean ice-cream in my last post. You can always save it for something else though, or if you don’t have an ice-cream machine, just enjoy it on store bought ice-cream. You can make your own adjustments. The Grand Marnier makes it a little boozy, but it can easily be skipped. It’s also pretty thick unless it’s warm. Adding some extra cream will thin it out a bit. Whatever you don’t use, just put in a sealed container or mason jar, and store it in the fridge.

Also note, that cooking sugar to this temperature can be very dangerous and cause severe burns. Keep kids out of the kitchen for this one and wearing gloves is always a good idea.

Here’s what you will need:

- 1 cup sugar

- 1/2 cup heavy cream

- 2 Tbsp butter

- 1/4 navel orange’s juice

- Splash of Grand Marnier

Place the sugar in a small pot and cook until it is a dark caramel colour.

Turn the heat down and add the cream, juice and alcohol. Once the mixture stops bubbling up, return the heat to medium high. The caramel will have hardened as the cream was added. Cook until it is all smooth and lump free.

Remove from the heat and immediately add the butter.

If you’re not using it immediately, reheat when you do. Chill in the fridge until then.

Let me know how this works out for you!