Friday, May 28, 2010

Bacon, Avocado and Tomato Panini

From bat sandwich

Sandwiches are highly underrated. From the time we are kids sandwiches are apart of North American kids lives - peanut butter and jam, butter and sugar, cucumber and mayo, peanut butter and mustard, and the ever popular processed cheese on white bread are just a few classic and strange creations that I grew up with!

But now that I'm all grown up, my tastes occasionally move on to more adult classics like the BLT! I was craving one tonight but decided to substitute avocados for the lettuce when I decided to grill it on the panini press (the lettuce would go soggy in the press). I also added a bit of herbed cream cheese to make it even creamier. I used soursough bread because of the added bite in flavour and the nice crisp texture it has once pressed.

1/3 of an avocado
1 vine ripeded tomato, sliced
3-5 strips of bacon (I use precooked to save time)
2 tbsp herbed cream cheese
2 thick pieces sour dough bread

What to do
  • Spread avocado one one side of bread.
  • Layer bacon and tomatos on top of avocado.
  • Spread other side of bread with cream cheese.
  • Place bread cheese side down on tomato slices.
  • If desired, spread a bit of butter or oil on both sides of sandwixh.
  • Place in panini press for approximately 4-6 minutes dependingon how toasted you like your bread.
  • Carefully remove from press and cut on diagonal.  Add pickle if desired and enjoy!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. Her instructions follow (with notes from me) as they are very easy to follow!

You'll be surprised at how quick and easy this pastry is to make.. definitely not as intimidating as it looks! I very much enjoyed this month's challenge - it's something I would have never thought to make on my own, but will now make it whenever I want to impress someone visually or gastronomically!

This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. While you can purchase or make a cardboard conical structure to build your piece montée or use toothpicks as an aid, it is relatively easy to assemble using just the baked pate a choux as the main building blocks and the glaze as the "glue".

While a piece montée may be a bit time-consuming to assemble, the various components are relatively easy to make and don’t require any special ingredients. The best part about them is that once you have mastered them, you will be able to go on and make many beloved French French pastries such as éclairs, and profiteroles which are made with this pate a choux recipe, a filling and glaze.

Preparation time: You will want to use your puff pastry batter and chocolate glaze or caramel as soon as it has been prepared and as close to serving time as possible. This is not a dessert that stores well and it may be a bit temperamental in humid areas as the glaze needs to harden to hold the choux together. The crème patissiere can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use (I am told it also freezes well once baked but have not tested this myself).

You will need approximately 10 minutes to prepare the puff pastry, 10 minutes to pipe and about 30 minutes to bake each batch. The crème patissiere should take about 10 minutes to cook and then will need to be cooled for at least 6 hours or overnight. The glazes take about 10 minutes to prepare.

Equipment required:
• several baking sheets
• parchment paper
• a whisk
• a pastry brush (for the egg wash)
• a pastry bag and tip (a plain tip or no tip is best for piping the puff pastry; you can use a plain or star tip to fill the puff pastry with the cream)
• a flat surface such as a baking sheet or cake board/stand on which to assemble your piece montée


For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

What to do:
Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.

Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Note: Although easy to make you can replace the patissiere with Bird's Custard - Just make the "dessert" version on the can. When I take this short cut I just add the contents of a vanilla bean and sometimes a bit of rum or kahlua!

Ingredients for Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.

It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs. You really must stir it with quite a bit of force to incorporate the eggs, but you can do it!

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip) or a ziploc bag with one end cut. Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide. I recommend trying to do this without "twirling the dough (like a DQ ice cream) as it can produce funny looking pastries. Try to make a nice "blob" instead.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top

Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt). Note: I forgot the salt and it was fine.

Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool. They don't take long to cool!

Can be stored in a airtight box overnight.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. You'll be surprised at just how much filling one of these little things can hold! Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Use one of these glazes to top your choux and assemble your piece montée. I recommend the chocolate as the caramel is very hard and very sharp! At the very least I suggest using the chocolate as glue if possible and the spun sugar caramel as decoration.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced; I recommend semi-sweet)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.

Hard Caramel Glaze:
1 cup (225 g.) sugar
½ teaspoon lemon or lime juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately. Note: BE CAREFUL AS YOU CAN EASILY BURN YOURSELF.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up.

When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tidbit Thursday #4

Pass the shaker, this week's tidbit info is all about salt!

  • Salt is an indipsensible tool in our kitchens - it makes our foods taste better, juicier, sweeter (yes, sweeter), and just plain good. There's table salt (rock salt, pretzel salt, iodized salt, pickling salt) , kosher salt (additive free and loved by many cooks and chefs because it dissolves quickly), and sea salt (Hawaiian salt, fleur de sel, black salt).
  • Today salt is relatively cheap and can be bought at any corner store, national supermarket chain or upscale gourmet store (depending on how much you want to spend), but that wasn't always the case. Because of its importance in food preservation and its difficulty to obtain, salt was an extremely valuable commodity throughout the ages.
  • Salt, or sodium chloride, is a chemical compound with the formula NaCl (does that bring you back to high school chemistry class or what!). For every gram of salt, almost 40 per cent is sodium (Na) and over 60 per cent is chlorine (Cl).
  • Every cell of our body contains salt!
  • Ideally you want to have much less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day (USA) — that's about 1 teaspoon .
  • That includes ALL sodium and salt — what's in the product, and added in cooking and at the table.
  • Processed foods account for most of the sodium and salt consumed by North Americans.
  • In contrast to pepper, which loses flavour once ground, there is no advantage in freshly grinding salt prior to its use.
  • Check food labels — sodium is in some foods you might not expect, such as soy sauce, deli meats, some antacids, low fat salad dressings, & pickled anything!
  • According to the Globe and Mail "...the average Canadian consumes nearly 3,100 milligrams of sodium a day, according to Statistics Canada, more than double the daily recommended amount for adults."

Canada's Windsor Salt offers these tidbits:

Something's Fishy!
Removing fish odour from your hands is simple easy with a little salt. Just rub your hands with a lemon wedge dipped in salt, then rinse with water.

Forgot to put your wine or champagne in the cooler? Try the bottle in an ice bucket. Add a layer of ice on the bottom and sprinkle it with a few tablespoons of salt. Continue to layer salt and ice until it reaches the neck of the bottle. Then add water to ice level. After about 12 minutes, it is ready to serve. Don't forget to rinse ice bucket thoroughly after use.
Read More:
Gormet vs Iodized Table Salt:
Mars is covered in Table Salt?
Make sculpting "clay"
As Canadian as Salt?
Salt Glossary

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dirt, Worm and Spider Cake!

My son recently turned 4 years old. Where did time go?! It seems like just yesterday his entire little body could fit on my lap. Now his long arms and legs fight for space on the couch with his older sister while they watch Scooby Doo or get ready for story time. Four years ago, I wrapped my arms around him, but now just as often he wraps his around me and offers a big kiss and "I love you, Mommy" - of course, the kiss often comes with peanut butter and jam smears on his lips. Yes, I do miss having babies around but I have realized every stage of our kids development is worth savouring - especially the ones that come with a side of pb & j.

I try to make birthday cakes from scratch every year for the kids and they get to choose whatever design they want. Between my son and daugther there have been princess castle cakes, Barbie cakes, car cakes, jungle cakes, and aquarium cakes. This 4th birthday was a Dirt Cake. And with dirt come worms and tarantulas.

It was fairly simple to prepare. I used a ten inch cake pan and one side of a Wilton ball pan. You could use any a 9 inch pan though if a 10 isn't available. If you don't have a ball pan just make a couple of extra layers and cut/sculpt it into something that looks like a hill.

You'll also need your fave cake recipe, chocolate icing, gummy worms and tarantulas, crushed oreos or other chocolate wafer or grated chocolate would work too. I added some "grass" with a bit of green icing (I used commercially prepared vanilla frosting with some green dye), and the wall is made out of chocolate rock candy.

Once you bake your cakes, frost the bottom layer with chocolate icing and place the rock candy around the outside of the cake to make a stone wall. Add some icing to the bottom of the "hill" layer and position on the bottom layer. Frost the hill. Sprinkle oreos crumbs over the hill to make your dirt pile. Add your worms, and spiders as desired on the cake. To make the worms come out of the cake just cut one in half, poke a hole in the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon and stick the part of the worm inside. Repeat with the other half. If desired add some "grass" with green icing (I use a Wilton tip #233 for the grass). If you have left over rocks, place those on the dirt too!

This cake was a hit with all the kids at the party - what 4 year old isn't excited about being allowed to eat dirt!?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Creamy Lemon Berry Tart

Creamy Lemon Berry Tart

Estimated Times: Preparation - 20 min
Cooling Time - 2 hrs refrigerating or can be frozen
Yields - 8 servings


1/4 cup seedless red raspberry jam
1  package (150 g)of shortbread (such as Walker's or about 12 cookies)
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp melted butter
1.5 cups fresh raspberries or blackberries, divided
5 ozs. cream cheese, softened
1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk
1 pkg (about 3.4 oz. each) lemon instant pudding
1 cup lemon curd
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1 container (8 oz.) frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided (could use whipped cream if desired)
Additional grated lemon peel (optional)


In food processor, pulse 150 g of short bread cookies (like Walker's - I found  lemon shortbread cookies from Australia that were delcious) and 1 cup graham cracker wafer crumbs with 3 tbsp melted butter.

Press into 8 or 9 inch springform pan. Press crumbs up the side (about an inch).

Bake in oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely.

Tart Filling

Spread raspberry jam over bottom of crust. Place 3/4 cup raspberries over jam.

Beat cream cheese in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually add evaporated milk, pudding mix, lemon curd and lemon peel. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed until well blended. Gently stir in half of whipped topping. Spoon into crust; top with remaining whipped topping.

Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set. Garnish with remaining berries and additional lemon zest, if desired, just before serving.

Note: This freezes well, though I recommend not putting on whipped cream or topping. Let sit for 20-30 minutes before serving. Add whipped cream before serving or leave off and just add a few extra berries.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tidbit Thursday #3 - Nutrition Label Claims

Nutrition Label Claims

My guess is most of us read food labels. Although nutritional claims are regulated by governments and will vary by country to some extent, I thought it would be interesting to see read what some of the definitions are of terms describing what we eat.
The Canadian Government has rules in place that must be met before a nutrition claim can be made on a label or advertisement. The rules for nutrition claims apply to all foods, prepackaged and not prepackaged, no matter where they are sold.

A manufacturer can choose whether or not to include nutrition claims on the label or in the advertisement of a food.

Examples of claims:

Source of Fibre

Manufacturers of food can highlight a product’s nutrition features using claims such as "Source of fibre". "Source of fibre" means the food contains at least 2 grams of dietary fibre in the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table.

Low Fat

"Low" is always associated with a very small amount. “Low fat” means that the food contains no more than 3 grams of fat in the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table. In a healthy diet, the recommended range for fat intake is approximately one third of total Calories.


The claim "Cholesterol-free" means that the product has a negligible amount (less than 2 mg of cholesterol in the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table) and it is also low in saturated fat and trans fat.


“Free” is an amount of a nutrient so small that health experts consider it nutritionally insignificant. A “sodium-free” claim means the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table contains less than 5 mg of sodium.

Reduced in Calories

“Reduced in Calories” has at least 25% less energy (Calories) than the food it is being compared to.


When referring to a nutritional characteristic of a product, “light” is allowed only on foods that are either “reduced in fat” or “reduced in energy” (Calories). “Light” can also be used to describe sensory characteristics of a food, provided that the characteristic is clearly identified with the claim (e.g., light tasting, light coloured).


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Slow Cooker Hickory Pulled Pork

We love pulled pork. Love it. But I have to confess that I have been on a hunt for a good home recipe. My attempts seem to be hit and miss with more misses than hits. The pork often turns out less than tender or overly dry. All the recipes I have tried have been dutch oven baked varieties until today. I came across Fuji Mama's recipe for slow cooker pulled pork and thought I would try it as it had only 3 ingredients...of course by the time I added my own touch it had a few more but still more than manageable.

I used a 6 lb pork shoulder, pink Himalayan salt from Trader Joe's, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika and liquid smoke. It was my first experience with smoke in a bottle and while I wouldn't use it everyday it did add a distinct flavour to the meat which I really enjoy.

The pork was fall apart done in 12 hours - the first 3 on high and the rest on low. It was juicy, tender and flavourful. I used my Chipotle barbeque sauce which you can find here.

6 lb pork shoulder
2 tbsp hickory liquid smoke
1 tbsp pink Himalayan salt
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1.5 tsp onion powder
4 cloves garlic, crushed

  • Cut pork into 3 chunks.
  • Rub salt into pork.
  • Place in slow cooker.
  • Sprinkle paprika and onion powder over pork.
  • Add liquid smoke and garlic.
  • Cover and put on high for three hours. After three hours turn to low and cook for another 9 hours until pork is cooked through and easily comes apart with fork.
  • Remove from slow cooker and place in large bowl. Using 2 forks shred pork. If desired add 1/2 c -  1 cup BBQ sauce.
Pork is great on it's own or grilled pita as shown. Also great on nachos! Enjoy.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Smokin' Sausage Lasagna

Does anyone not like lasagna? I didn't think so. Even my 5 year old (who, btw, got her first loose tooth yesterday!) likes it even though she is firmly against casseroles or other "mixed up" food.

Normally, I use beef or turkey in my recipe but this time we tried sausage - to great applause! I also generally use no fuss, no muss, no pre-boiling required noodles...they make preparing dinner so much easier!

The great thing about lasagna is that pretty much anything goes - like garlic? Add more! Don't like wine? Substitute water! Like it hot and spicy? Add hot sauce!

My favorite ingredient in this recipe is the smoked Gouda - it melts so well and imparts a great but not too strong smoky flavour. Also, this recipe makes a smooth, creamy tasting lasagna - none of the flavours really stand out too much (that is there is no Horshack, "Ooh-ooh-ooooh! pick me Mr. Carter" going on - sorry to anyone not familiar with the Sweathogs) but everything melds together to produce a memorable and delicious comfort dish.

Mmm, pass the garlic bread!

1 cup wine wine
2 lbs mild italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 bottles Paul Newman's Marinara sauce
2 onions
2 cups spinach
large handful of basil
9 oven ready lasagna noodles
2 cups ricotta
2 cups mozzarella. grated
1 cup smoked gouda, grated
1/3 cup parmesan
2 tsp thyme
chipotle hot sauce (optional)

Take sausage out of casings and saute with onions on medium heat til sausage is cooked through - about 15 minutes.

In blender or food processor, blend sauce, garlic, basil and spinach. If desired, blend some of the cooked sausage as well.

Pour sauce into large sauce pan and add wine. Stir till blended. Warm over medium- low heat.

In large bowl, mix together ricotta, 1/2 cup smoked gouda, 1 cup mozzarella, parmesan, thyme, pepper and salt.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place 1/3 of sauce in 9 x 13 pan.

Add 3 lasagna noodles.

Evenly spread 1/2 of cheese mixture over noodles.

Spread 1/3 of sauce over mixture.

Add 3 more noodles.

Spread other 1/2 of cheese mixture over noodles.

Add 3 more noodles.

Spread sausage evenly over noodles.

Pour last 1/3 of sauce over noodles.

Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and smoked gouda over sauce.

Bake in oven for approximately 50-60 minutes, until fork pierces pasta easily.

Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Note: If you don't like browned/broiled cheese (I love it), I would cover with non-stick aluminum foil during baking.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Candy Coated Chocolate Strawberries

Local strawberry season doesn't start till June but I couldn't wait another month when I came across some beautiful organic strawberries at the market last week. After enjoying their pure unadulterated goodness right out of the carton (well, after washing them), I thought I would jazz up the rest with chocolate! And to please the kids we added some sprinkles and cute and delcious!

1 cup milk chocolate chips
12 strawberries
1/3 cup each of various sprinkles and/or sanding sugar
12 lollipop sticks (optional)

Melt the milk chocolate chips in a bowl set over a small pot of simmering water or melt in microwave (full power 30 seconds, stir, reheat for 10 second intervals and stir again if needed) .

Poke a strawberry with a fork or lollpop stick and dip it into the melted chocolate.

Immediately roll in your favorite sprinkles or sanding sugar. Lay on a baking sheet covered in waxed paper or a silpat to set or if on sticks place in mug or glass (strawberry up!) until set.
So simple, so delicious. Enjoy!