Batch # 8 and counting . . .

Pumpkin & Raisin Mini Muffins

Our dishwasher has been broken for two weeks now, and so I get a “look” from my husband whenever I start baking. He likes to point out that cooking is my hobby, but doing dishes is not his. Although, he looks super cute with a towel over his shoulders at the sink, doesn’t he?

And, for the record, I help with the dishes too! Anyway, I know that by now you must think I have a bad case of muffin fever, since it seems like only yesterday that I posted my Apple and Dried Cherry Mini Muffins. But I really just had to share. The double-batch of these charming little pumpkin lovlies that I made this weekened is almost all gone . . . and that now makes for eight batches (and counting) in less than a month.

I love the fact that these are “skinny” muffins. Made with only two tablespoons of canola oil and just the egg whites, these muffins are sooooooo moist. Of course, I made them mini and nut-free so they are lunch-box friendly.

If you have a few pumpkins that you’d like to use up, see the directions for making pumpkin puree from Sawsan at Chef in Disguise here.

For the pumpkin muffin recipe, go to SkinnyTaste.com

But first, promise me that you won’t go and buy pumpkin pie spice! It is so easy to make and you likely have all the ingredients in your cupboard.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Recipe

  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon all spice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves

Mix all of the spices together in a bowl until well combined and there are no lumps; store in a spice jar. You can double or triple the recipe according to your baking needs.

Yield: The recipe above makes just under 3 tablespoons.

NOTES:

  • I replaced the pecans with raisins in the SkinnyTaste.com recipe and topped them with a sprinkling of raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds). I also used regular white sugar, rather than raw sugar.
  • I made mini muffins rather than regular size and baked them for 15 minutes at 350°; yield approx. 30 muffins.
  • In Canada, the pure pumpkin comes in a 796 ml size. It makes two batches perfectly, so a double-batch is a good way to make sure that you don’t throw the other half of puree out, isn’t it?

The ponytails and good friend Miss K (right) making short work of eating up batch #8 . . .


Cheater Lasagna and Other Weeknight Survival Tips

Cheater Lasagna

Sometimes the weekend feels like a break from a busy week. Sometimes work feels like a break from the weekend. One thing is constant though  . . .  weeknight dinners are ALWAYS a challenge–especially on those nights where one of the girls has an after-school activity. I know that I’ve talked about this before, and I know that I’m not alone in struggling to get dinner on the table during weeknights. I think it can be a daunting task, whether you have kids or not.

I thought I’d share a few of the tips that have been helping me cope over the past few weeks, along with a few of my current favourite recipes that help keep me sane. (Okay, I guess this is a matter of opinion.)

  1. Cheat as often as you can . . . in the kitchen of course. Look for recipes that are an easier and faster version of your favourite time-consuming dishes. My cheater lasagna is a family favourite, so I’m sharing it with you below. To make it more weeknight-friendly, you can make the meat sauce in advance and use store-bought preshredded cheese. Another option is to follow tip #2, and make a double-batch of the meat sauce in advance and freeze them so that you have a key ingredient for this recipe on stand-by in case of emergency.
  2. Go big as often as you can.Cook large batches so that you can freeze the left-overs for the next week or later in the month. I find that it takes just as much effort to make a large portion of many dishes, as it does to make a small one. Here are a few of my favourite high-volume recipes:
  3. Use a crock pot for some of your old stand-bys. Have you tried making your favourite soup in a crock-pot? I’ve found that you can easily make your favourite soup recipe in the crock-pot without altering the recipe. The key to making it work on a weekday is to do the chopping the night before and then throw everything into the pot in the morning. Set your crock pot for low and slow, and away you go. Dinner will be waiting for you at the end of the day. Here are the soups I’ve tried in the crock pot so far:
    • Fassolada
    • Tortilla Soup from Ali at A Few Stories — I made this last week and we loved it. I just didn’t add any chilis so that it wouldn’t be too spicy for the ponytails.
    • My long-time favourite Split-pea Soup from Epicurious. Just made a double-batch in the crock pot without the bacon with our left-over ham from Thanksgiving; it worked beautifully — it took about 8 hours on high.
  4. Keep it simple. Make dishes that can be put together quickly on a week-night. Here are a few of my current favourites.
    1. Sloppy Joes from Betsy at bits and breadcrumbs— Actually I haven’t made this yet…but I’m planning to try it later in the week since sloppy joe’s are a regular weeknight meal for us. 
    2. Peanut Noodles
    3. Shrimp and asparagus stir fry from Norma at Garden to Wok   — I’ve also substituted snow peas or broccoli for the asparagus because the ponytails like these veggies better.
  5. Plan for your left-overs. Make something like a roast chicken on the weekend, while planning for a second meal with the left-overs. See my recent Lemon & Herb Spatchocked Chicken post for more details on this idea.
  6. Take at least one night off every week. Order in . . .  or, if you’re on a budget, throw a frozen pizza in the oven. The thin crust pizzas are ready in 12 minutes or so . . . and they’ve saved me many times when I’ve realized that something I thought I had in the cupboard or fridge wasn’t there!
  7. Share your tips with friends! Please leave me a comment with one of your weeknight survival tips and I’ll continue to update this post with your ideas below, so that we can all learn from one another!

Cheater Lasagna

Adapted from Sandi Richard, Fixing Dinner

  • 500 grams mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tin 680 ml + 1/2 tin of 398 tomato sauce (plain)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp each garlic and onion powder
  • 1 340 oz bag broad egg noodles
  • 2 cans reduced fat cream of mushroom soup (or reduced fat cream of broccoli)
  • 1 can soup filled with 1% milk
  • ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Cook for 4 minutes, then drain and rinse with water to remove starch. Set aside.
  3. Brown sausage until browned, then add tomato sauce and spices (oregano, basil, parsley, garlic and onion powder).
  4. Whisk together soup and milk in a medium-sized bowl.
  5. In large lasagna pan, layer ½ soup mixture, 1/3 cooked noodles, ½ meat sauce, cheddar cheese, 1/3 cooked noodles, remaining soup mixture, remaining noodles, remaining meat sauce, then finally mozzarella cheese.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned.

On Friendship, Babies and Macarons . . .

Coconut Lime Macarons

There’s nothing like a new little bundle to turn your world upside down and make the simplest of tasks—like having a shower—seem as challenging as climbing Mount Kilamanjaro.

So of course I was more than happy to pitch in for Charles at Five Euro Food with a guest post after the arrival of his adorable son William—although it did take me a little while to get my act together. However, I must say that Charles seems to be coping much better than I did after the birth of my first ponytail, for he has written a couple of posts, continued with his walking adventures in and around Paris, and hosted a dinner party—all within a few short weeks of becoming a new dad. I, on the other hand, had difficulty stringing a sentence together, let alone photographing and writing about the things I was cooking in those early days of motherhood.

Shortly after I started blogging, my “real life” and blogging friend Eva from KitchenInspirations kindly wrote a post that introduced my blog to her network of blogging friends. Thanks to Eva, Charles was one of the first people that I met and in no time at all I felt like I’d known him forever . . . largely because of his thoughtful comments and blog posts that draw you in and make you feel like you’re right there in the kitchen with him, having a good ole chat and a cuppa. How many times I’ve wished that I was there so that I could sample one of his famous Swedish kaka’s (cakes) or cinnamon buns? (Trust me, too many to count.) If you are not familiar with his blog, I encourage you to check it out.

I set out to make macarons for this post, and I must admit that I came very close to losing my nerve the more I read about making this infamous French confectionery. To find out more about my macaron adventure . . . and the latest trend in fashion for babies on the streets of Paris, please pop over to Five Euro Food.


Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie

If apple pie is comfort food, then cinnamon crumble apple pie—served warm with ice cream and caramel sauce—is the equivalent of wearing your favourite warm cozy sweater, while having a foot massage and being served a martini. Well, I think so anyway.

I wish that I could take credit for it . . . that the recipe was an old family secret or my own creation. But I can’t. I found the recipe in Bon Appetite magazine in 2003 and I’ve been making it ever since.

This pie was the “jumping off point” (as the designers from all of those HGTV shows I’m addicted to always like to say), for a dinner party I hosted on Saturday. I started with the pie and built the menu around it, with other dishes that felt appropriate for fall.

However, the pie was the only “tried and true” recipe on the menu. I also made a pork loin stuffed with baby spinach, prosciutto, and dried apricots—but I had never made it before. I know that is breaking the rule of make what you know when having company for dinner. I was hoping that if didn’t turn out, I could divert the attention away from my failure by serving lots of wine and finishing off with this apple pie. I think everything turned out okay though . . . hopefully my guests didn’t have to stop at McDonalds on the way home???

We enjoyed a lovely evening with my work colleagues and their families. (I’m fortunate to work with a group of people who I really like!) The ponytails did an amazing job of taking our charming three-year old guest, Miss A, under their wings. In fact, I think it was one of the smoothest dinner parties we’ve ever had, as there was quite a long stretch at the “adult table” where I forgot the kids were even there! (You’ve gotta like that.) The only thing missing was the other members of our team who live and work in Ottawa.

How about you? Do you ever try new recipes when you’re having company?

Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie

Recipe from Bon Appetit

CRUST

  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup frozen solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

FILLING

  • 3 1/4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

TOPPING

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

TO SERVE

  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Caramel sauce

Directions

CRUST

  • Mix flour, salt, and sugar in large bowl. Add butter and shortening; rub in with fingertips until coarse meal forms. Mix 3 tablespoons ice water and vinegar in small bowl to blend. Drizzle over flour mixture; stir with fork until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate 30 minutes.
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch; turn edge under and crimp decoratively. Refrigerate while preparing filling and topping.

FILLING

  • Mix all ingredients in large bowl to coat apples.

TOPPING

Blend first 5 ingredients in processor. Add chilled butter cubes; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles wet sand.

  • Toss filling to redistribute juices; transfer to crust, mounding in center. Pack topping over and around apples.

Bake pie on baking sheet until topping is golden, about 40 minutes (cover top with foil if browning too quickly). NOTE: I covered the top with foil after about 25 minutes because the pie was browning too quickly.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until apples in center are tender when pierced and filling is bubbling thickly at edges, about 45 minutes longer. Cool until warm, about 1 hour.

Serve with ice cream and caramel sauce.


Oodles of Peanut Noodles

I’ve mentioned that most weeknights are pretty crazy these days. Well, here’s an easy weeknight recipe for those nights where there’s no need to rush out the door for an activity. It can be prepared in just under 30 minutes and it’s always a hit with the girls. I’ve made this for several of my oldest ponytail’s friends who’ve had dinner at our place, and they’ve all eaten several plates.

This makes oodles of noodles, as I’ve mentioned in the headline. Some nights there’s very little leftover, while other nights there’s enough for another meal–so it fits well with my curent “cooking in bulk” strategy. This also freezes well.

I have to give credit to the idea of making noodles with broccoli slaw to Ann over at Cooking Healthy for Me–although Ann closed down her blog several months ago.  Ann’s recipe was quite different, as it used carrot juice and pre-made peanut sauce. I tried Ann’s recipe but made quite a few modifications and ended up with this version of peanut noodles. (Thanks Ann!) It’s now part of our regular weeknight rotation.

Peanut Noodles

(6 to 8 servings)

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 340 g package broccoli slaw
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ginger, minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup natural peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp mirin sweet cooking seasoning
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 375 g spaghetti (I often use Catelli Smart or whole wheat)

 Optional toppings:

  • Cooked shrimp
  • Green onion, chopped
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crushed peanuts, unsalted
  • Wedges of lime (on the side)

 Directions:

  1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Saute shrimp until cooked (optional) and set aside.
  3. Add sesame oil to pan and add garlic and ginger over medium heat. Cook for one minute. Add broccoli slaw and grated carrots and cook for about 8 minutes until softened.
  4. Add peanut butter, lime juice, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, mirin, water and soy sauce. Simmer two to three minutes until sauce thickens. At this point you can add additional water by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reached. (I like to add an additional 2 to 3 tbsp of water to thin out the sauce a bit more.) Stir in cooked spaghetti until mixed thoroughly.
  5. Serve with toppings (if using).

NOTES:

  • Broccoli slaw is a mixture of shredded carrots, cabbage and broccoli that is available in North America. You could add shredded broccoli to your regular cole slaw as a substitute.
  • I also use this peanut sauce (without the slaw and grated carrots) for my own version of broccoli and beef stir-fry. It’s quite versatile and could be used for satays etc.
  • If using regular peanut butter, just reduce the brown sugar to approx. 1 tbsp.
  • Catelli Smart pasta is available in North America and it is 2-1/2 times the fibre of regular white pasta, but it looks and tastes like regular pasta. For this reason, I use it a lot! The Catelli Smart spaghetti box that I buy is in fact 375 g, so I use the whole box for this recipe (which makes things very easy!). After looking on the website, I realize that the sizes must be different in the U.S., as the box size profiled is 454 g. In this case, you would use 3/4 of the box.
  • If cooking for only two or three people (and you don’t like leftovers), this recipe can easily be cut in half. The broccoli slaw cooks down, so you could still use the whole package and omit adding the grated carrot. Or, depending on your preference, you could reduce the amount of slaw down to 1/2 or 3/4 of the package. All remaining items just need to be reduced to half the amount specified in the recipe.

Lemon and Herbes de Provence Spatchcocked Chicken + Leftover Soup

How do you put together a meal, sign school forms and change the channel all at the same time? The answer is simple: heat up leftovers + get someone else to manage the TV remote (what are the odds I’d get control of it anyway?).

With three crazy nights of the week where we need to arrive home from school/work, eat and be out the door in less than 30 minutes, leftovers have become my best friend.

Now that September is in full swing, you’ll find me cooking in bulk on the weekends and freezing the leftovers for one of these crazy nights, or making a Sunday night dinner that will provide the key ingredients for a second meal. I’ve been doing this for ages, but I recently discovered a great blog written by Saskia called 1=2. Saskia’s site is brilliant, with every post delivering on this life-saving concept of making a meal and planning for leftovers to prepare a second meal. (Be sure to check out Saskia’s site for some great 1=2 ideas.)

A roasted chicken is the perfect start to a two-for-one meal, as there are just so many meals that you can make with leftover chicken. One of my favourite ways to roast or grill a chicken is to spatchcock it. Before you get any ideas, you should know that this simply means to butterfly a chicken, or to take out the backbone and flatten it. The key benefit is that the chicken cooks faster and more evenly than when it is left in tact. Apparently, spatchcock is the traditional word for the French term “poussin”, which means a young chicken. Years ago, these little chickens were frequently  butterflied for faster cooking, and eventually flattened chickens were called spatchcocks.

Often I’ll make a simple chicken pot pie with leftover chicken, or a chicken and brocolli quiche. Sometimes I just add barbeque sauce and serve the tangy leftover chicken with mashed potatoes (preferably leftovers also) and vegetables. I recently used my leftover chicken and corn (from a Sunday night dinner) to make Avocado-Corn Chowder with Grilled Chicken, which comes together in about 10 minutes using leftovers.

If you have some good recipes on how to use leftover chicken, please be sure to share as I see many more crazy nights in my future! How about you?

Lemon and Herbes de Provence Spatchcocked Chicken

  • 4 lb chicken, spatchcocked
  • 2 lemons: zest one and slice the other
  • 2 to 3 tsp herbs de provence
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For instructions on how to spatchcock a chicken, you can watch this video (stop before cutting the flattened chicken in half) or follow the step-by-step photos here.

Rinse and thoroughly dry the chicken.

Breast side up, carefully separate the skin from the bird, taking care not to rip the skin. Insert two slices of lemon between the skin and the flesh on each half of the bird.

Using a pastry brush, coat the outside skin of the bird with the olive oil. Sprinkle the coated chicken with herbes de provence, lemon zest and salt & pepper to taste.

To Grill: Cook on a preheated barbeque for 45 to 50 minutes until internal termperature reads 180°.

To Roast in the Oven: Preheat oven to 425°. Place prepared chicken (spatchcocked, seasoned and stuffed with lemon as above) breast side up in a greased baking dish. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until internal temperature reads 180°. NOTE: When roasting, I like to use butter rather than oil to coat the chicken. I also like to mix a couple of teaspoons of butter with some fresh chopped parsley, thyme and rosemary and slip this between the skin and the flesh of the bird. This doesn’t work well when barbequing, as the butter drips on to the grill and catches fire.

Avocado-Corn Chowder with Grilled Chicken

For the orignial recipe, click here.

My modifications:

  • I reduced the water to 1 cup, as I find 1½ cups too watery and I reduced the orange juice to 1/3 cup rather than ½ cup.
  • Using left-over grilled chicken eliminates the need to follow the directions for cooking the chicken.
  • I used a couple pinches of crushed red pepper rather than ¼ tsp of ground red pepper.
  • I also omitted the chopped red pepper.

Healthy Apple and Dried Cherry Mini Muffins

The wonderful thing about kids is the fact that they are unpredictable. The challenging thing about kids is the fact that they are unpredictable.

There are times when I expect a negative reaction to a situation, and my girls will completely surprize me by showing a level of maturity that is beyond their years. Yes (smile), they are unpredictable.

One week something is an all-time favourite. The next week it is the worst thing ever. This is particularly the case when it comes to food. Yes (sigh), they are unpredictable.

But, I find that if you hold your ground, they eventually eat the dish or snack that you made for them. And I think they like it too . . . they just won’t admit it. (They get their stubborn streak from their father.) Otherwise they’d have a very unhealthy and boring food repetoire (think mac & cheese, pizza and grilled cheese). Somedays it wears you down, but it keeps me on my toes as I live in search of recipes that my ponytails will like.

These mini apple muffins went over well last week, which made me very happy since they are made with lots of healthy bits, such as apples, oats, dried cherries and sesame seeds. They were perfect to send to school for snacks, since they are nut-free, but still have some crunch to them from the sesame seeds. I guiltlessly ate quite a few myself because they are made with very little fat–only 2 tablespoons of canola oil for the entire batch. They ranked right up there with the Blueberry and Banana Muffins that I wrote about in my very first post.

I keep wondering how many more years until the girls become more adventurous about their food–the way they were when they were really little and weren’t influenced by the kids menu at restaurants? Is there cause for optimism?

Healthy Apple Breakfast Muffins

Slightly adapted from Style at Home Magazine

  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 cup plain fat-free yogurt (I used 1%)
  • 2 cups grated peeled apple
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup fat-free milk (I used 1%)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375°
  • Combine the oats and yogurt in a medium bowl and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Whisk together the apple, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla in a separate bowl.
  • Add the apple mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir to blend.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
  • Pour the yogurt mixture over the dry ingredients and sprinkle with the dried cherries and sesame seeds.
  • Stir until just combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into a mini muffn tin and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the tops are brown. If using regular sized muffin tin, bake for 35 minutes.

Notes:

  • For tips on making mini muffins, see my original post.

Back-to-school Breakfast Fruit Sundaes

 

Back-to-school Breakfast Fruit Sundaes

Tomorrow is the first day of school for my ponytails. But, for my youngest ponytail, it’s her very first day ever at her K-8 school.

Can you imagine the excitement in my house? I know you are guessing that it is my little ponytail who is excited. And yes, you would be right.

However, my husband and I are beyond excited because it means that we only have to drop the girls off at one school each morning, rather than two. Happy days! The mornings are going to get a tad bit easier. (And the afternoons too, I might add.)

But the first day of school isn’t just a date on the calendar—it’s a state of mind. It’s about new beginnings, a fresh start, a clean slate. You get the idea.

There’s something about this feeling of a fresh start. It must be the crisp haircut, the new pencil case and the spanking new Jordash jeans (okay, that was another era) that signal change is in the air. Even I’ve been swept up by this energizing atmosphere, and I’m the one paying for all the new back-to-school must-haves!

Despite all this change, one thing that won’t change is the fact that the girls don’t like to get up in the morning. Boy some mornings are ugly.

So, I’ve come up with a way to start tomorrow off on the right foot. I’m going to announce that there are sundaes waiting for them on the kitchen table—but only if they hop right out of bed. I’ll just be skipping over a couple of words…since it will be breakfast fruit sundaes that will be waiting there. Do you think they’ll be disappointed?

Breakfast Fruit Sundaes

  • Mixed fruit (any combination of sliced strawberries, bananas, plums, peaches pineapple and blueberries)
  • Vanilla yogurt (see notes)
  • Granola (see my Maple Pistachio Granola recipe below)
  • Honey or maple syrup (optional)

Place a ½ cup or so of mixed fruit in the bottom of a bowl or ice cream serving dish. Add a good-sized dollop of vanilla yogurt, followed by a sprinkling of two or three t heaping spoonfuls of granola. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup (optional).

Maple Pistachio Granola

  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup pistachios, chopped roughly (or chopped almonds)
  • ½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. In medium-sized bowl, mix oats, pistachios, coconut, sesame seeds and cinnamon. Add maple syrup, oil and vanilla. Mix well. Spread out on a large baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes (until your granola is a lovely caramel brown colour). Be sure to start checking on it at the 10 minute mark, as it burns quickly.

NOTES:

  • You can add a couple of teaspoons of pure vanilla to a container of plain yogurt to make your own vanilla yogurt. I like to add vanilla to 1% yogurt.

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

During any given activity throughout the day–whether it’s buying a coffee, standing in line at the bank or boarding a plane–if you stop and look around you’ll no doubt see several people around you reading their messages on their smart phones.  Guess it is not surprising that 2.8 million emails are sent every second.

I read an article on a recent flight that underscored the importance of “disconnecting” while on vacation–that we need to savour each moment and not worry about “reporting” on the moment through social media, so that we can participate fully in our “real-life” relationships.

Can you tell that I took this message to heart? It helps to explain why I haven’t been posting and commenting recently. I’ve just returned from a week’s vacation in cottage country and I was “unplugged” for most of the week. (Okay, I did spend an hour one day commenting while the kids where kayaking with their dad.)

Now that I’m recharged (and excited to get cooking again) I want to share this Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova recipe with you. I make it every summer and it is always a crowd favourite. I made it a few weeks a go for a farewell dinner for our good friends who moved back to Israel after living in Canada for four years. We had a wonderful night, even though it was very sad to say good-bye. I’ll think of them whenever I make this pavlova from now on.

The best part about this pavlova is the fudgey chocolately centre that is quite unexpected the first time you take a bite. It’s the reason that the ponytails LOVE this dessert!

 

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

 Very slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson, Forever Summer

 For the chocolate meringue base:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder, sieved
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

 For the topping:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 12 – 18 oz raspberries (2 to 3 containers; 6 ounces each)
  • 2-3 tbsp grated semi-sweet or dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until peaks form and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.

Heap the meringue mixture on to a baking sheet in a 9 inch circle, smoothing the sides and top.

Place in the oven, then immediately lower temperature to 300° and cook for 60 to 75 minutes. It should look crisp around the edges and be dry on top. It is slightly squishy when you push down on the top. Turn the oven off and open the door slightly and let cool completely.

To serve, place the meringue on a large flat-bottomed plate. Whisk the whipping cream until thick. Add sugar. Pile the whipped cream on top of meringue, then add the raspberries. Grate the chocolate over the top.

NOTES:

  • Don’t forget to turn the oven down to 300° when you put the pavlova in the oven!
  • I’ve made this several times each summer for many years now and the meringue always cracks. Don’t worry, it still looks great once you add the whipped cream and raspberries.
  • Be sure to wash the raspberries well in advance of making this and place them on a paper towel to dry. This will ensure that the raspberries don’t run when you place them on the whipped cream.
  • I used 2 containers of raspberries this time, but normally I like to use 3 so that the raspberries are densely piled on the pavlova.
  • I also usually grate the chocolate into curls, but I was in a hurry to serve this and just finely grated the chocolate. The chocolate curls look more impressive, if you have time.

Exploring the Trails (and Food) of the Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise, Alberta

When I look at the mountains in the Canadian Rockies, a part of me feels like I’m 19 again and I can feel the excitment and promise of my whole life ahead of me bubbling below the surface. Then I feel the tug of a small hand in mine, and I’m brought back to earth. I’m no longer a carefree university student looking for her next adventure. I’m a mother of two young ponytails who need to reach the end of the hiking trail before the effects of the morning snack have worn off or another bathroom break calls.

I have to tell you that it sure was great to tour the Rockies with my family this summer. We got to explore the spectacularly beautiful area of Banff, Emerald Lake and Lake Louise, where I worked for two summers during university. We also got to spend time with my husband’s family in Edmonton.

Me with the ponytails in Banff.

Carefree isn’t the word to describe this family trip, but did it pull on my heartstrings to see the look of excitment on the girls’ faces as they discovered the magic of mountains for the first time.

The girls riding up the Sulphur Mountain gondola in Banff. Can you say excited?

We managed to complete several 5 km hikes, which was an accomplishment with a four-year old, as well as canoe around a couple of different lakes.

This helped to offset all the calories from the wonderful meals that we enjoyed–including an amazing Bistecca alla Florentina at the Chateau Lake Louise. Given that Alberta is known for its beef, this seemed like the perfect meal to have in one of my absolutely favourite places. The meal didn’t disappoint, and while we devoured the steak before I could get a picture, I’ve decided to share my version of this meal as I have been making it since we first tried it on our honeymoon in Florence.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Tuscan Porterhouse)

Serves 2

  • 1 20 oz (1.5 lb) porterhouse/t-bone steak
  • 2 tbsps good quality olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shavings of parmesan cheese
  • Lemon cut in half.

Mix olive oil and herbs in small bowl. Set aside.

Salt and pepper both sides of steak at room temperature. Place steak on grill and cook for 10 or so minutes per side, for medium rare (longer if you prefer your steak well done). Add lemon halfs to grill at same time as the steak. Remove steak and lemon from grill when steak is done. Drizzle olive oil and herb mixture over steak and let it rest for five minutes on a plate.

Serve steak on a platter with roasted asparagus, fennel, grape tomatoes and potatoes. Sprinkle parmesan cheese shavings over all items on the platter. Squeeze a bit of lemon on the meat and vegetables before eating.

  • NOTES:
    In Florence this dish is made with Chianina beef. They are the huge white oxen raised in the Val di Chiana, near Arezzo. This meat is noted for being both tender and highly flavorful.
  • For the fennel: cut it in half lengthwise, and cut out the core from both halves. Then cut into 1/4″ thick pieces lengthwise. I roasted the fennel, asparagus and grape tomatoes in a 425° oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until carmelized.
  • For a one inch steak: Rare, 10-12 mins; Medium Rare, 12-16 mins; Medium, 16-18 mins
  • It is fun for two people to share one of these platters (as long as you feel comfortable cutting every last piece of meat from the bone in front of your partner) and I’ve made this for company as well — each couple gets their own platter.

I know this won’t be our last family trip to the Rockies. I think the girls were as smitten by mountains as I was all those years ago. Lake Louise, we’ll be back!