Friday, April 27, 2012

Daring Baker's Challenge Part I - Armenian Nutmeg Cake

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

Until this challenge, I had never heard of Armenian Nutmeg Cake. Little did I know my life was poorer for it. First off, this cake tastes amazing. The spices make something that your tastes buds will recognize as comfort food even if, like me, you have never bit into this peace of heaven before. Second, even though kids will love it, the flavours are quite sophisticated and filled with depth. Third, this cake is super easy to make!

This dessert is perfect for a tea party, a dinner party or a pity party! Try it. You're gonna like it!

Armenian Nutmeg Cake

Makes one 9”/23cm cake which yields 12 servings


• 1 cup (240 ml) milk
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
• 3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, preferably unsalted, cubed
• 1/2 cup walnut pieces or pumpkin seeds, may need a little more
• 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg (try to grate it fresh yourself)
• 4 pods of green cardamom, seeds removed and crushed (discard pods) or ½ tsp ground cardamom
• 1 large egg

What to do
(using food processor, and a 9-inch spring form pan)

1. Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F

2. Mix the baking soda (not baking powder) into the milk. Set aside.

3. Put the flour, baking powder, and the brown sugar into your food processor. Pulse until uniformly mixed.

4. Toss in the cubed butter. Pulse until uniformly mixed into tan-colored small crumbs.

5. Pour HALF of the crumbs into your spring form (9”/23cm) pan. Press out a crust using your fingers and knuckles.

6. Crack the egg into the food processor with the rest of the crumbs still in it.

7. Toss nutmeg and cardamom into the food processor, too. Pulse until well-incorporated.

8. Pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until a slightly lumpy tan batter is formed.

9. Pour the batter over the crust in the spring form pan.

10. Gently sprinkle the walnut or pumpkin pieces over the batter.

11. Bake in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. It's ready when the top is golden brown, and when it passes the toothpick test (comes out clean).

12. Cool the cake in the pan, and then dig in. Yum yum!

Freezing/Storage Instructions/Tips: Armenian nutmeg cake will keep (covered) at room temperature for 2-3 days. Taste better still warm from the oven.

Allow to cool completely before attempting to freeze. Armenian Nutmeg Cake will freeze fairly well if completely sealed. Can be frozen for up to 3 months.

The Daring Baker's Part II - Nazook

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

These little bites are not only buttery, flaky, and slightly sweet but they are also easy to make and bake. To one batch I made as directed and to the other I added a sprinkle of cinnamon. My personal fave is the original version - there is the perfect hint of vanilla which blends so well with the buttery pastry.

Pastry dough

  • 3 cups (720 ml) (420 gm/15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
  • 2½ teaspoons (12½ ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) (1 packet) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) sour cream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) softened butter (room temperature)

  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (210 gm) (7½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (340 gm/12 oz) sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) softened butter (room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla pod, scraped for the seeds

  • 1-2 egg yolks (for the wash; alternatively, some yogurt, egg whites, or a whole egg)

What to do

Make the Pastry Dough

1. Place the sifted flour into a large bowl.

2. Add the dry yeast, and mix it in.

3. Add the sour cream, and the softened butter.

4. Use your hands, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough.

5. If using a standing mixer, switch to a dough hook. If making manually, continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it remains very sticky, add some flour, a little at a time.

6. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.

Make the filling
7. Mix the flour, sugar, vanilla seeds and the softened butter in a medium bowl.

8. Add the vanilla extract.

9. Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.

Make the nazook
10. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.

11. Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters.

12. Form one of the quarters into a ball. Dust your working surface with a little flour.

13. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but not transparent.

14. Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the rolled-out dough in an even layer. Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, but keep some of pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges.

15. From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed. Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf.

16. Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out a bit.

17. Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush.

18. Use your crinkle cutter (or knife) to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces. Put onto an non-greased cookie sheet.

19. Place in a preheated moderate oven for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown.

20. Allow to cool and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Roasted Onion Soup

Roasted onion soup with crusty bread.

I love that this onion soup is just that - onion cheese, no extra bread on top....just onions (and a little pork). Pure. Simple. Delicious.

This recipe is adapted from Inspirations - the girls who dish.

1/3 cup coarsely chopped salt pork (or double smoked bacon, if preferred)
2 tbsp olive oil
8 shallots
3 leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 large spanish onion
2 red onions
2 white onion
1-1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 c white wine
1 tbsp fresh thyme
4-6 c stock (any kind)
pepper, to taste

What to do
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Thinly slice all onions. The thinner the better!
  • Throw the onions, oil and pork into a large roasting pan and stir together.
  • Sprinkle the sugar over the onion mixture and roast about 50 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes to ensure even carmelization.
  • Once nicely coloured remove the pan from the oven.
  • Directly to the pan, add the thyme, wine, and pepper. Pour in stock until the onions are barely covered with stock.
  • Bring soup to a boil on stove top and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Simmer for half an hour. (PS if your roasting pan is too big for stove top, transfer every to a soup pot once onions are removed from the oven.) If desired, add more stock if too thick.
  • I like using a hand blender for a few seconds to thicken the soup a little.
  • But sometimes, I leave eveything as is as I've been known to pull out the onions the next day and add them to sandwiches, mashed potatoes etc!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fruit Salad Lower Fat Muffins

Pineapple, banana, apple and strawberry add up to a fruit salad muffin!

These muffins are my new favorite go to treat. They are lower in fat than regular muffins and have quite a bit of fruit in them. The kids love them as a school snack and I like them with a cup of coffee (ok my husband doesn't like them but that's because they contain bananas!). The original recipe came from Anne Lindsay's cookbook, New Light Cooking which has quite a few delicious recipes to try. I've added different fruits and spice to my version but kept the whole wheat goodness of the original.

Makes 12 muffins. They will keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days but you can freeze them for up to two months! Each muffin contains about 200 calories, 5 grams of fat and 3 grams of fibre, and 4 grams of protein.
The dollop of jam adds a nice burst of flavour.
2 c whole wheat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/2 c berry sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c mashed banana
1/4 c grated peeled apple
1/4 c finely chopped strawberries
1/2 c crushed pineapple (drained)
1/4 c milk
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/4 c fruit jam

What to do
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Lightly spray muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray (according to Anne Lindsay, lower fat muffins tend to stick to paper liners!)
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, flax, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  4. In another bowl slightly beat egg.
  5. To the egg, add vanilla, all fruit, oil, and milk.
  6. Pour the egg mixture over the flour and stir to just barely combine (if you over stir the muffins will be tough!).
  7. Divide batter evenly amongst 12 muffins tins. Make a small well in the centre of each and add a little fruit jam to each.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes.

These muffins stay moist thanks to the fruit!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cardamom, Chia and Pumpkin Seed Granola - Super Foods 2012

This is the third installment of my Super Foods 2012 series. This month we look at chia.

The powdered form is great in baking. Just throw in a tablespoon or two into your cake batters and cookie doughs and no one will ever know you've upped the nutrition value of these treats! Also used as a thickener in some sauces it's acceptable though I have found that it's a bit clumpy if not stirred properly. 

I prefer chia in the seed form. Whether it's in granola, yogourt, mixed into pancake batter or sprinkled on top of a stir fry the seeds work well to add great texture and a nutrition boost to your diet. Some people turn it into a gel-like substance and eat that but I have yet to try doesn't sound very appetizing to me! Has anyone tried it this way?

This is a wonderful granola recipe that not only incorporates chia but also flax, bran, oats, cardamom and pumpkin seeds! Truly delicious and packed full of nutrients!

Cardamom, Chia and Pumpkin Seed Granola Recipe
1/4 c honey
1/3 c maple syrup
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger powder
4 green cardamom pods broken and seeds removed (discard pods; keep seeds)
1/2 c unsweetened coconut
1-1/2 c pumpkin seeds
1/2 c almond slivers
1/4 c chia (seeds or ground)
1/2 c wheat bran
1/2 c ground flax
1/2 tsp salt
4 c large flake oats
1 tsp vanilla

What to do
  • Preheat oven 325 degrees F.
  • Crush cardamom seeds with back of spoon.
  • In medium sized saucepan, combine oil, honey, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and crushed cardamom seeds.
  • Bring to simmer over medium heat.
  • In a large bowl combine all other ingredients.
  • Carefully pour liquid over dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
  • Using a large rimmed cookie sheet or baking pan, spread the granola to evenly cover the pan.
  • The granola should take about 40 minutes to toast completely. To ensure even browning, stir the granola every 10 minutes while baking!
  • Cool completely.
  • Note: you can add raisins or other dried fruit once cooled, if desired.

Other articles on chia:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Grilled Vegetable & Feta Salad

Throw everything in a bowl - how easy is that!

Grilled Veggie Salad - so healthy and delicious.

Fresh asparagus - a sure sign of spring!

A little salt, pepper and oil and we're ready to go!

Beautifully Charred.

I wanted to serve a healthy salad one night to go with an ahi tuna dish but didn't feel like running out for lettuce and I wanted to prepare it ahead of time. Luckily, I had a bunch of different veggies - peppers, asparagus, beets - that were perfect for grilling. And since grilling brings out a natural sweetness in the vegetables little dressing was needed. I added some creamy feta and, as crazy as it sounds, some pickled ginger to it and it was amazing! You can substitute any other grilling veggie that you have on hand - squash, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potato etc.

Serves 6 as a side dish

6 sweet peppers
2 large beetd
2 bunches asparagus
2 ounces feta
2 small purple top turnips
1 avocado
2 tbsp pickled ginger, chopped (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of a lemon

What to do

  • Preheat oven to broil.
  • Take washed bell peppers, cut in quarters lengthwise and cutout white veins and seeds. Place on baking sheet (outside skin of pepper facing up) and squish down so peppers are same height.
  • Season with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Brush tops of peppers with a good quality olive oil (or just pour it on like I do).
  • Broil until skin blisters and peppers soften (5-10 minutes depending on grill). I like to basically charr the top skin.
  • Remove from oven and place in bowl.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place to the side so they rest. The peppers will steam inside the bowl which will loosen the charred skin, making it easier to remove them later.)
  • Wash asparagus and cut ends a couple of inches if needed.
  • Place asparagus in a single layer on pan and again sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss in some oil.
  • Broil 3 minutes until one side is starting to char slightly and then carefully turn the asparagus so you can grill the other side.
  • Remove from oven.
  • Reduce heat to 375 degrees F.
  • Peel beets and turnips.
  • Cut into small half inch pieces and place on pan.
  • Salt, pepper and oil them.
  • Roast until tender, about 20-30 minutes.
  • Chop asparagus into one inch pieces.
  • Remove peppers from bowl and carefully remove charred skins.
  • Cut peppers into one inch pieces.
  • Skin avocado, remove pit and dice into one inch chunks.
  • In a large serving bowl, throw in all vegetables including any juices from the pans.
  • Add feta, pickled ginger and add a squeeze of lemon.
  • Season if required.
  • Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Decorated Easter Sugar Cookies

Black sheep of the family?

Decorated with pre-made cookie icing and a few sprinkles.
Twirly lines easily made with a tooth pick run through the icing.

These Easter cookies are made from a super easy recipe a friend gave me from Cook's Illustrated. The dough stands up well to rolling and tastes delicious. Try it and I'm guessing it will become your favorite go to cookie recipe!
Carrot outlined in black icing and dried before filling in the colours.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup berry (or super fine) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, unsalted,room temperature and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp cream cheese, room temperature

What to do
  • Using a mixer, combine flour, sugar, salt - on low speed to avoid flour going everywhere!
  • Keep mixing on low and add the butter one piece at a time and mix until it is crumbly.
  • Add vanilla and cream cheese and continue to mix until dough forms large clumps. This won't take long - maybe a minute or so.
  • Using your hands knead the dough a few times so in forms one big ball.
  • Divide in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate for 1/2 hour or longer.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Rollout dough so it is about 1/8 inch thick.
  • Cut into shapes, place on cookie sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  • Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.
  • Cool on sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to cooling racks.
  • Repeat with remaining dough.
  • Makes about 36 cookies.

Happy Easter!