Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Simple Five: Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge

Fudge is one of those sweet pleasures that taste rich and satisfies a sweet tooth with just a small piece.
The sweetness of fudge often evokes that feeling of homemade treats.  I love visiting countryside bakeries that serve homemade treats. One can often find handmade fudge wrapped in saran wrap with a handwritten price sticker, offered on the counter.

When I make fudge, I like to switch the ingredients, using a variety of flavours (like maple or butterscotch).  However, this chocolate hazelnut recipe is a favourite in our house.


Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge
(makes approximately 12-16 servings).

  • 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate (you can use baker's chocolate or chocolate chips).
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter (optional, if you prefer a buttery fudge).
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (150ml)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (organic, homemade or Nutella)
  • Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with parchment paper leaving about an inch hangover on each side.
  • Chop chocolate (or use chips) in a microwave safe bowl with the butter (if using) and the condensed milk.
  • Microwave on high, stirring every minute, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove and stir in vanilla and chocolate hazelnut spread
  • Spread in the lined baking pan.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. 
  • Using the parchment paper overhang, lift the fudge out of the pan, and cut into squares.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Simple Five : Chocolate Toffee Crunch

Every year, I seem to miscalculate how much chocolate I should purchase for Easter.  My eyes are larger than my stomach (and wallet), and with other chocolates collected from the Easter Bunny, family and friends, our house can rival Willy Wonka.  I'm not complaining though.  It just gives me a reason to consume use up whatever is in the house.

Here's a quick way to use up some of that overabundance of chocolate.  This recipe is a variation of the "crunch" bars found on the back of those "Baker's chocolate" packages, using ingredients I already have in my cupboards...including all the sweetness left behind by the Easter Bunny.


Chocolate Toffee Crunch
(makes approximately 12 small servings)

  • 35  whole wheat saltine crackers
  • ½ cup  butter
  • ½  cup  packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup of chocolate, chopped in small pieces.  (I used 3/4 cup milk chocolate left over from Easter and ¼ cup white can use chocolate chips).
  • 1 cup of a variety of the "crunchy topping".  (You can use crushed candy, nuts or even dried fruit. I used ¼  cup finely chopped toffee bits like Hershey's Skor Chipits, found in the baking section and 3/4  cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped).
  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Place the crackers in single layer on a parchment covered baking sheet.
  • Heat butter and sugar in saucepan on medium-high heat until butter is melted and mixture is well blended, stirring occasionally. 
  • Bring to boil; cook 2 min. (Do not stir.) 
  • Spread onto crackers.
  • Bake for approximately 7 min. or until topping is golden brown. 
  • Immediately sprinkle with the chocolate chips; let stand 5 min. or until melted.  
  • Using a spatula, spread the melted chocolate chips evenly over the crackers.  
  • Top with the white chocolate chips, and swirl onto into the chocolate to make a marble design.
  • While the chocolate is still soft, top with the crunchy stuff...toffee pieces and or peanuts.
  • Cool, then break into pieces.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Simple Five: Anchovy Infused Orecchiette with Broccoli

Orecchiette is a uniquely disc shaped pasta that originates from Southern Italy.  Once cooked, this pasta creates little "bowls", making it ideal for light sauces, as most of the flavour is retained within the hollows of the pasta.

This recipe is an easy adaptation a traditional Italian dish, but as usual, uses only five ingredients (and easy to find ingredients).  Tuna would work well with this dish, but I chose anchovies to add flavourful depth, as the saltiness of the anchovies are balanced out with the broccoli. Anchovies are an acquired taste, but if you like food that with has a salty "bite" in flavour, this is your dish.


Anchovy Infused Orecchiette with Broccoli 
(makes approximately 4-8 servings)

  • 450g box of orecchiette pasta
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets in oil, chopped (reserve 1 tbsp oil)
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ tbsp (about ½ of a lemon, juiced)
  • 1 small broccoli, cut into florets
  • Cook the orecchiette according to the package. 
  • Mince/chop the anchovy.  Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil and 1 tbsp of the oil from the anchovies in saute pan/pot. 
  • Add the garlic until the garlic is slightly golden. 
  • Add the anchovies and lemon juice, and cook for 1-2 mins more until the anchovies "dissolve" and become part of the sauce.
  • Toss with the pasta.
  • Add the broccoli and toss with the pasta until the broccoli is bright green.
  • Season with salt, pepper or parmesan (if desired), and serve.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Simple Five: Grilled Gouda and Smoked Salmon Baguette

While we approach the finish line of March Break and school lunches are on the back of my mind (very back), here's a really lovely grilled cheese sandwich geared for adults (although my kids love this too) that slowly gets us back to making sandwiches.

Enjoy the remainder of March Break.

Grilled Gouda and Smoked Salmon Baguette
(Makes 2 sandwiches)

  • 4 slices of french baguette bread
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon chunks and allowed to soften
  • 150g package of smoked salmon
  • 4 oz Gouda, thinly sliced
  • Extra butter for the pan; if needed

  • Heat a large pan or griddle over medium-heat. 
  • Place bread on a clean surface
  • Layer 1/2 of the cheese on one side, and 1/2 of the salmon on the other side
  • Repeat for all the slices of bread.
  • Spread each side of bread with one tablespoon of butter.
  • Place sandwich in the prepared grill and heat on each side for about 3 minutes each, or until the bread has crisped and the cheese has melted.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Simple Five: Garlic Roasted Eggplant Dip

I usually make this eggplant dip at the spur of the moment (when eggplant is on sale or when it looks so appetizing in the store), and I end up trying to recollect the recipe as I put the eggplant in my grocery cart.  Tahini is the ingredient that I forget the most often.

This recipe is a slight modification on the traditional "Baba Ghanoush", a middle eastern
dish, but I replaced tahini with general pantry staples.  Makes a great vegetarian dip for pita breads, crackers or crudites.  Perfect for healthy snacks over the March Break.

Happy March Break!

Garlic Roasted Eggplant Dip 
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups

  • 1 eggplant, large
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. sesame seed oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, roasted
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  • Place eggplant on baking sheet, and make holes in the skin with a fork. 
  • Take the whole garlic and wrap it in tin foil.
  • Roast both the eggplant and garlic for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. 
  • Remove from oven.
  • With a knife, slice the eggplant down the middle and scoop the contents in a bowl.
  • Place eggplant, lemon juice, sesame oil, and garlic (amount of cloves to taste) in an electric blender, and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Transfer eggplant mixture to a medium size mixing bowl, and slowly mix in olive oil. Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

the good from the bad

I recently read an article about a 90 year old widow in China who had sadly lost all of her children and spouses and has lived on her own without any surviving family for the past 30 years. (read the article, here) While planning for her final days, she had a simple request when she was planning her funeral...for people to come to it.  This request was published in her local paper, and a heartwarming response ensued from readers, giving her a glimmer of happiness as they decided to spend some time with her now while she was alive, instead of waiting for her death.  .

It is a lesson I've tried to teach the kids as we go through life on dealing with the ups and downs of it. With trials and tribulations, the obstacles and disappointments that greet us only can make us stronger and help us strive for and appreciate, when the good times come.  Our son recently said that he noticed how light seems to glows brighter when it's dark, like it's showing you the path out of darkness, toward the light. Understanding this metaphor, a light seemed to really shine as he realized that sometimes he might not win a game (or a swim meet) but the lessons he learns when he doesn't win only makes winning later on, much sweeter.

It's a fine art to balance the emotions between the two and to remind ourselves that there are lessons in our mistakes.  Sometimes falling can only make you stronger, and that's where the "good" comes from the "bad".  

Bacon, Spinach and Mushroom Pasta
(makes approximately 4 servings)

This pasta has elements that are both good and "bad" for you...I tried to reduce the amount of the "bad"  (bacon) by using organic, reduced fat bacon.  The spinach provides a good balance of nutrition, and makes this dish "good".

  • 1 cup low sodium, organic bacon, sliced (about 8 slices)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, chopped and removing stems
  • 1 ½  cups 2% milk (or cream if you wish for a creamier sauce)
  • ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • Pepper to taste (I don't add salt to this dish as most of it derives from the bacon and parmesan cheese, so I don't usually add to the sodium content).
  • 450g pasta (penne or linguine works nice here).
  • In a cast iron skillet, sautè the onion & bacon together until the onion is translucent and the bacon is cooked.  Drain the oil/fat. (no butter is necessary in this dish as the oil from the bacon, even when drained, is enough to coat the cast iron skillet to do the job!).
  • In the meantime, cook the pasta according to directions.
  • Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the garlic is browned.
  • Add the spinach, and sautè until the spinach is wilted.
  • Add the milk then top with parmesan and simmer, stirring until the sauce is thickened. 
  • Toss with cooked pasta.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

tomorrow is a new year

My brother bought this incredible egg waffle maker from Williams Sonoma, and was eager to test to see if the recipe that came with the product would be similar to the popular Chinese "Eggette" (otherwise known as "egg pops" or  "egg waffles").  With Chinese (Lunar) New Year tomorrow, I thought I'd try this recipe...with a twist.

Using a cake pop maker (a previous Christmas gift he gave to my daughter), I made these little cake "pops" that are reminiscient of the street food, "Hong Kong Egg Waffles" that are sold by street vendors.

Not exactly the same in presentation... these are more round than in the shape of little flat "eggs" of the original version, and the egg waffles in HK are attached to each other to form a waffle.  However, this is the closest that I was able to get without running out to buy yet another kitchen gadget or to the local Chinese market (although I encourage anyone to try these at the market at least once!).  They're soooo good.

Cheers to my family and friends.

Happy Chinese (Lunar) New Year!

Hong Kong Egg Waffle Inspired Cake Bites
(Makes 24 bites)
Adapted from: Ginger & Scotch

  • 1 cup (4 oz or 120 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch with 1 tsp. vanilla extract (to replicate custard powder)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ⅔ cup of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tbsp. almond extract
  • Melt the butter in a mixing bowl.
  • Stir in almond extract, condensed milk and eggs.
  • Add the sugar, vanilla extract and cornstarch.
  • Stir until mixed.
  • Stir in the baking powder, then the flour (slowly).
  • Spray the cake pop maker with oil.
  • Pour batter into each of the cake pop holes, only filling half way.
  • Close lid and let it bake for approximately 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove and let cool.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

the simple five: slow cooker cheese potato soup

Nothing is better than spending a full day outdoors enjoying winter activities, and then being welcomed to a home filled with comforting aromas indicating that dinner is ready and waiting for you. I love using my slow cooker, and this particular recipe is a nice hearty soup, especially if you're feeding a crowd.  Fun to serve in bread bowls, and perfect to feed a large group or family (maybe for Family Day this weekend?)

This recipe makes a large batch but can be halved if you're not consuming this all in one night. Half can be served right away, and the other half placed in a container (once the soup is cooled) and frozen for up to 3 months. This recipe is quite adaptable, and you can replace the green onions with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, dill or shallots.  I've even used left over Garlic Roasted Cauliflower with good results.


Slow Cooker Cheese Potato Soup (for a crowd)
(makes approximately12 servings).

  • 4 cups of stock (chicken, vegetable or beef.... I generally use chicken or vegetable, but have used beef stock when I'm not adding crumbled bacon as a topping).
  • 8-10 russet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 stalk green onion, (thinly sliced green and white parts)
  • 1-2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (depending on taste).
  • 2+ cups of milk or heavy cream.
  • Place potatoes in an 8 quart crock pot.  Add stock until it just covers the potatoes, approximately 4 cups or so.
  • Add green onion.
  • Cook on low for about 8 hours or high for 4.
  • Turn slow cooker off.
  • Using an immersion blender, puree the contents in the crock pot until it has the consistency of very thick soup (or place contents in batches, in a blender).
  • Add the cheddar cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.  (I used about 1 ½ cups of cheese).
  • Add milk or cream until the soup thickness is to your liking (I use about 2 ½ cups of milk...use more if you want a thinner consistency).
Garnish with sour cream, crumbled bacon, chopped green onions, or dill, if desired.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

soaking up the sweet

This past week an expected storm resulted in a snow day.  School was closed and the kids were cheerfully home.  We took this extra day as an opportunity to pack, prepare and finalize any school work before our son was going to embark on a snow adventure for an overnight school trip.   

It's amazing what a year of maturity can bring, as he demonstrated by packing his bags wisely, not just according to the weather, but also in an orderly fashion based on his travel habits.  Daily items in an easy access backpack. Extra snow gear at the bottom of the bag.  Everything placed according to how he's accustomed to travelling. After packing, we spent time chatting while shovelling the driveway, then he took a break and basked in the emerging sunshine.  Work is done!

I guess our family trips have surprisingly taught him lessons beyond cultural and geographical ones.  Although I am often frustrated (like any parent has experienced) when he loses or carelessly forgets his belongings, it seems like he has transformed overnight into a young adult....self aware of his own habits and abilities.  

On the morning of his trip, we woke up early to ensure we were prepared. As I anxiously went through his packing list one more time before we left, he smiled his big warm smile and reassured me that everything was "in the bag" (figuratively speaking).  

He was right (and for a brief moment I realized we were having a parent/child role reversal moment). I stopped micromanaging and let him take charge. It's a lesson to remember at times like these, to stop and see his warm smile and like this bread pudding recipe below, soak up as much of his child-like sweetness for as long as I can. For it will not be long before my young boy will be transformed seemingly overnight again, into an amazing, reassuring, sweet young man. 

Apple Crumble Raisin Bread Pudding
(makes approximately 12 servings)

This recipe combines the traditional tastes of bread pudding combined with the sweet as pie tastes of apple crumble on top.

  • 8 slices of raisin bread, cubed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½  cup half and half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 apples, peeled and sliced
For the Crumble topping
  • ½  cup of flour
  • ¼ cup of oats
  • ⅓ cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg (to taste)
  • 6 tbsp. butter, cubed.
  • In a small bowl, mix the flour and oats.  Add the sugar and cinnamon. Add the cubed butter, and mix with a pastry cutter or fork until it resembles crumbles (the size of peas).
  • Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, scramble the eggs
  • Add the vanilla and half and half.  Mix well.
  • Add the cubed bread and mix until bread soaks up the egg mixture.
  • Press bread mixture into an 8x8 square pan
  • Layer the sliced apples on top.
  • Sprinkle the crumble topping (recipe below).
  • Cover with aluminum foil.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes more.
Top with ice cream, caramel syrup or enjoy on it's own.