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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Macaroon Challenge

A few months ago, my parents went on vacation to Paris. Knowing me well, all the gifts they brought back for me were ones I could eat. One of my favorites was the beautifully decorated box from Laduree filled with eight, delicate, delicious, Parisian macaroons (or macarons, if I were French); smooth, flavourful filling sandwiched between two delicate, melt in your mouth almond meringue cookies. I had tried French style macaroons before, but none had tasted like these.

 Doing some research on the internet I combined a few recipes, to try to duplicate these cookies, so here lies THE MACAROON CHALLENGE!!!! I decided to start small and just try the most basic flavour, a vanilla cookie with vanilla buttercream filling. I decided to throw in some food colouring, just to make them look a little bit more interesting.

Here is the recipe I used:

  • 1 3/4 Cup icing sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups almond flour or finely ground blanched and peeled almonds
  • 3 large egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 Cup granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • food colouring (optional)
Buttercream Filling
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
  • 1 Tbsp. Heavy Cream
  • food colouring (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, using a permanent marker trace circles onto the paper, using something the size you want your macaroons to be, then flip the paper making sure you can still see the circles.
3. Sift icing sugar and almond flour into a small mixing bowl, and whisk to combine.
4. In a large mixing bowl beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy, add the salt and continue to mix while gradually adding the granulated sugar. Continue to beat until the egg whites form medium peaks.
5. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the almond mixture, vanilla extract and food colouring (if using) into the egg whites until just combined. Tap the bottom of the bowl on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.
6. Transfer the mixture into a large piping bag, with a medium sized plain tip. Pipe the mixture into the traced circles on the baking sheet.
7. Place in the oven and bake until the macaroons become slightly firm on the top and can be lifted off the parchment paper, about 20 to 25 minutes. The bottoms of the macaroons should be completely dry.
8. While the macaroons are baking, prepare the buttercream.
9. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, add the vanilla then gradually mix in the icing sugar until combined, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the cream then increase speed to high and continue to beat until icing is fluffy, about 3 minutes. Tint with food colouring if using.
10. remove the macaroons from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for about five minutes, before lifting the entire parchment onto a wire rack to cool completely.
11. Once completely cool, spread about 1 tsp. of the buttercream mixture onto the flat side of one macaroon, and then sandwich with another macaroon.
12. Macaroons can be stored for about 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Here is how my macaroons turned out:

Generally, the cookies turned out pretty close to the ones I had from Laduree. Obviously, nothing is as good as the orginal, but these are lot easier then flying to Paris. I just have to practice my piping to get them into perfect circles. I'm looking forward to trying out some different flavours. Stay tuned.....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Favorite Products: Brie Baker

One of my go-to party foods is baked brie. It is one of the easiest things to make, guarantees a ton of compliments, and is devoured within minutes every time I make it. The only problem was finding the perfect vessel to both bake it and serve it in, until I found my Petite Maison Brie Baker by Wildly Delicious, available at Bowring or Wildly Delcious. The earthenware container comes in both white and red, and comes with a useful and stylish bamboo spreader.

photo courtesy of

Simply place a wheel of brie into the baker, top with any of your favorite toppings and bake in a hot oven until the centre is warm and gooey. Serve with crackers and crusty french bread, and get ready to enter cheese heaven.

Some of my favourite ways to top baked brie are:
  • as is, there is nothing wrong with plain, ooey, gooey, delicious brie
  • apricot preserves and slivered almonds
  • caramalized onions, sliced figs and honey
  • chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil or for an easy route, store bought bruschetta mix
  • for the holiday season, cranberry preserves and walnuts
  • sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic
  • roasted red pepper or sun dried tomato tapenade

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"What's For Dinner?" Wednesday: Mexican Rice Bowl

Rice bowls are becoming a very popular menu item at restaurants. I love the comforting feeling you get from eating your whole meal, in one steamy, hot bowl. My version of a Mexican Rice bowl, is a healthy and hearty weeknight meal, and the leftovers are great wrapped in a tortilla for lunch the next day. The fact that it is cooked in one pot also helps make it a speedy clean up.

Mexican Rice Bowl
Serves 4
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 chorizo sausage, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 cup long grain, white rice
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder or Tex Mex seasoning
  • 1 can (341ml.) corn niblets
  • 1 can (540 ml.) black, pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (127ml.) green chilies, drained (found in the Mexican food aisle)
  • 1 can (796 ml.) chopped tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • grated cheese, sour cream and sliced green onions for garnish (optional)
1. Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat, add the oil and cook the onions and garlic until softened, add in the chorizo and chicken and cook until the chicken no longer looks pink. Stir in the rice and chili powder and cook for 1 minute.
2. Add in the rest of the ingredients, and stir to combine. Bring up to boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is evaporated and the rice is cooked, about 15 minutes.
3. Place into individual bowls, top with some grated cheese, sour cream and green onions.


    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Quick Tip

    Have you ever read a recipe that called for a certain measurement but you only had a measuring cup that measured in cups? If so, check out this awesome measuring equivalent chart. This is just one of the many templates available on Martha Stewart's website. Thanks Martha!

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Favorite Products: Truffle Oil

    No, I'm not talking about oil made from chocolate. I am talking about oil infused with actual truffles, the fungi. If you know what I am talking about you are probably thinking, "truffle oil? Isn't that insanely expensive?". Which brings me to why Truffle Oil is one of my favorite products. Although real, fresh truffles can cost you as much as thousands of dollars a pound, truffle oil is a great way to enjoy the deep, earthy, rich flavour of truffles without filing for bankruptcy. There are many versions of truffle oil available, and some even available at your local Loblaw's. They can vary in price depending on whether they contain real truffles or not. The majority of truffle oils here in Canada are essentially just olive oil  that are infused with truffle essence, while others actually contain real truffles (obviously more expensive). Although not as good as the real thing, these truffle oils do a great job of making me feel like I am enjoying a 5 star meal right in my own home. A small bottle will cost you about 15 to 20 dollars, but since you only need a drop to impart that delicious truffle flavour, the bottle will last quite awhile.

    Some of my favorite uses of truffle oil are:
    • mixed with some mayonnaise to dip french fries in, or to enhance a sandwich
    • drizzled over soup
    • drizzled over some mixed greens
    • to finish off a pasta dish (especially homemade white cheddar mac and cheese)
    • mixed in with my scrambled eggs or omelets
    • drizzled over steak
    If you love the taste and aroma of truffles when you eat out in a restaurant, I highly recommend purchasing some truffle oil to keep on hand, for those necessary at home indulgences.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    "What's For Dinner?" Wednesday: Flank Steak with Balsamic Onions

    Flank steak is a great way to enjoy a steak dinner during the week, it is very reasonably priced and is a relatively lean cut of beef. Although, flank steak has a bit of a bad reputation, as it can sometimes turn out tough, if done well it is a delicious alternative to an expensive and very high calorie restaurant style steak dinner. This recipe goes great served with some steamed asparagus and some potato crisps (like the one's used in my Potato Crisps with Dill Cream and Smoked Salmon recipe).

    Flank Steak with Balsamic Onions
    Serves 4
    • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
    • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 tsp. steak spice 
    • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar  
    • 1/2 cup ketchup
    • 1.5 lbs of flank steak
    •  1 Tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 sweet onion, sliced
    1. In a small mixing bowl combine the vegetable oil, Worcestershire sauce, steak spice, 1 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar and ketchup.
    2. Place the steak in a casserole dish and prick the top many times with a fork before pouring over the ketchup mixture, let marinate for at least an hour for as long as overnight.
    3. Preheat the broiler on your oven.
    4.Remove the steak from the marinade and  place on an aluminum lined baking sheet, place on the top rack of the oven, about 6 inches away from the broiler, for 20 minutes for a medium cooked steak.
    4. Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil and onions and saute until softened, turn the heat to low and let cook until onions start to become golden and caramelized. Pour in the remaining balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, until the vinegar has reduced and turned to a syrupy consistency. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
    5. Remove the steak from the oven and place on a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
    6. Slice the steak into thin slices, making sure to cut across the grain of the meat. Place on a serving platter and top with balsamic onions.


    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Sunday Brunch

    Brunch is one of my favorite meals to entertain with, so this weekend I invited all of my bridesmaids for my upcoming wedding over so everyone could get to know each other. Besides the obligatory bagels and cream cheese I decided to add in some brunch style hors d'oeuvres.

    On the menu:
    •  two types of mini egg white frittatas (caramelized onion with aged cheddar and spinach, cherry tomato and goat cheese)
    • mini Belgian waffles with maple pears and whipped cream
    • yogurt, honey and berry parfaits
    • brie and fig tarts
    • potato crisps with dill cream and smoked salmon

    one of the buffet tables

    fritattas and fruit salad

      Here is the recipe for the most popular item of the day:

      Potato Crisps with Dill Cream and Smoked Salmon 
      Makes about 40 hors d'oeuvres
      • 2 baking potatoes, skin on, scrubbed and cleaned
      • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
      • 1 tsp. each salt and pepper
      • 1 Cup of sour cream
      • the zest of 1 lemon
      • 2 Tbsp. dill, chopped
      • 150g. package of smoked salmon, cut into strips
      1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

      2. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife slice the potatoes into slices about 1/4 inch thick

      3. In a large mixing bowl toss the potato slices with the oil, salt and pepper

      4. Place the potato slices on a baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil that has also been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray

      5. Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for 20 minutes until starting to brown.

      6. Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, mix the sour cream with the lemon zest and dill, set aside.

      7. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool. 
      8. Once cooled, place the potato slices on a serving platter, top each potato with a small amount of the sour cream mixture and then with a strip of smoked salmon
      9. Garnish with some more chopped dill and serve.

      * The potato crisps and the dill cream can be made the day before, and stored in the refrigerator, just make sure to bring the potatoes to room temperature before serving

      Wednesday, November 11, 2009

      "What's For Dinner?" Wednesday: Easy Butter Chicken

      I love Indian food, but going out for Indian can get pricey, and making traditional Indian food at home can get complicated. Butter Chicken is one of the most popular Indian dishes here in Canada. Traditionally, the chicken is marinated overnight, then cooked in a tandoor before being placed in a slow simmered sauce of ground almonds, spices, tomatoes and cream. My version uses all of the traditional flavours, but speeds up the process, so you can enjoy Butter Chicken after a long day at work, without calling for take out. Serve with some steamed Basmati rice and some store bought Naan bread for a great take out meal at home.

      Easy Butter Chicken
      Serves 4
      • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
      • 1 cup of plain yogurt
      • 1 clove of garlic, minced
      • 1 tsp. minced ginger
      • 1 tsp. lemon juice
      • 1 Tbsp. butter
      • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
      • 1 medium sized onion, chopped
      • 1 Tbsp. mild tandoori curry paste (in the ethnic food aisle at the grocery store, Patak's is a good brand)
      • 1 can (796 mL) crushed tomatoes
      • 1 cup heavy cream
      • 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)
      1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees
      2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken with the yogurt, garlic, ginger and lemon juice. Let marinate, covered in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.
      3. Heat a large sauce pan or high sided saute pan over medium-high heat then add the butter and oil.
      4. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and cook until softened, and translucent. Stir in the curry paste and cook until fragrant and starting to stick to the pan, about 2 minutes.
      5. Pour in the tomatoes, stir to combine, lower the heat to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
      6. While the sauce is simmering, remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a greased casserole dish, place in the oven and bake until cooked through and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
      7. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into bite sized pieces, about 1 inch cubes.
      8. Stir the cream into the sauce and then add the chicken. Stir to combine and let heat though.
      9. Pour into a serving dish and sprinkle with cilantro.
      photo courtesy of

      Tuesday, November 10, 2009

      The Great Pot and Pan Debate

      A question I get asked quite often is, "what are the best pots and pans?", I often don't know how to answer, as every type of pot and pan has its own purpose. Here is the lowdown of the most popular types of pots and pans that will hopefully answer everyone's question, and help with the decision of what type of pots and pans to purchase.

      Stainless Steel

      Stainless steel is a non-reactive metal which makes it great for cooking any ingredient. Although, stainless steel is a great general use material,  you have to be careful when choosing what type of stainless steel pots and pans to purchase.Stainless steel on its own will provide an uneven distribution of heat. Look for stainless steel pots and pans with an aluminum or copper core, this will allow the heat to be distributed more evenly, as well as allow for a higher heat temperature while cooking. Stainless steel on its own, is very sensitive to over heating, once you burn a stainless steel pan, it is very difficult to remove and will cause you problems afterward. In general, stainless steel is great for low-temperature cooking, like for eggs or fish and for boiling water or soup. Stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core is more versatile and can be used for higher heat cooking like searing, sauteing and stir-frying, but sticking is often a problem, clean up can be difficult, and they can often get pricey.

      Tip: Always  pre-heat your pan before cooking in it, placing a cold item in a cold pan will cause sticking.

      All-Clad Copper Core Stainless Steel Set
      Retails for approximately $1,200 


      This is what they use most often in restaurants. Aluminum is the cheapest material pots and pans you can purchase and distributes and retains heat beautifully. Aluminum is not as sensitive as stainless steel and can handle very high heat cooking without burning. There are a few downfalls though. One, after frequent use aluminum tends to pit, but because they are cheaper than other materials, they are easily replaceable. Also, aluminum is a reactive metal so many ingredients, especially acidic ones, like tomatoes will pick up a metallic taste when cooked with it. There is also the risk of Alzheimer's. Nothing has been proven that using aluminum pots and pans increases your risk of Alzheimer's, but some people like to be cautious and stay away.


      Cast Iron

      Cast iron is great for high heat cooking. Although it is reactive like aluminum, and shouldn't be used to make a tomato sauce, frying and searing comes out beautifully when using a cast iron pan. Cast iron will retain an intense amount of heat, and you basically never have to worry about it burning.  A cast iron pan should not be heavily washed, it is best when just rubbed down with a soft cloth, and hot water. A cast iron pan works best after years of being used, and it has a nice layer of grease on it. A few cons are that, cast iron tends to be very heavy, it takes longer than other materials to heat up, and it must be very carefully cared for.

      Teflon and Other Non-Stick

      These are my least favorite types of pots and pans, but they do serve their own purpose. Non-stick pans with a coating, like Teflon should never be used for high heat cooking. The coating with eventually burn off and go into your food. You also have to be very careful with what utensils you use and how you clean it, for the same reason. I do find that these pans are great for making eggs. Eggs should be cooked at a low temperature anyway, and in other pans can get sticky and very messy.  Used with plastic or silicone utensils to cook eggs is about the only thing I recommend these pots and pans for.

      Infused Anodized

      This is a relatively new technology used for pots and pans. Aluminum is put through an anodization process, that infuses the interior and exterior of the pan with an advanced release polymer. This makes the pan,  non-stick without a coating, and retains and distributes heat wonderfully. This material can be used for any type of cooking, can be used with any type of utensils, and clean up is super easy. I personally own an infused anodized set of pots and pans and have nothing negative to say about them. For general home use pots and pans, I highly recommend infused anodized. The one downside, is that they can get pricey, but they have a lifetime guarantee, and I feel are worth the extra money.

      Calphalon Infused Anodized Set
      Retails for approximately $500 

      Friday, November 6, 2009

      Pasta Pronto!!!

      Looking for a quick pasta dish?

      This is my variation of Pasta Puttanesca. Traditionally, Puttanesca is a heavy tomato sauce, but my version uses all of the elements of Pasta Puttanesca and makes it a little lighter. I love the mix of saltiness from the capers and olives with the sweetness of the tomatoes. This recipe is quick, simple and delicious.

      Don't be scared of the anchovy paste, once cooked it tastes nothing like fish, I promise, but if you really want you can leave it out. I used spaghettini for the pasta but you can use any of your  favorite pasta noodles.

      Pasta Puttanesca
      Serves 4
      • 1/4 cup olive oil
      • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 2 tsp. anchovy paste
      • 1/4 tsp. chili flakes (optional)
      • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives
      • 2 tbsp. capers, drained
      • 1 cup sundried tomatoes, cut into julienne
      • 2 1 pint containers of grape or cherry tomatoes
      • 1 (454g) package of pasta of your choice
      • 1 cup basil, roughly chopped
      • freshly grated Parmesan cheese 

      1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
      2. Heat a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, anchovy paste and chili flakes and cook until garlic starts to become golden
      3. Add in the olives, capers and both the tomatoes. Lower the heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the grape tomatoes have burst and released their juices.
      4. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.
      5. With the back of a wooden spoon, crush any remaining whole grape tomatoes, season the sauce with  pepper than toss with the cooked pasta. Top with the chopped basil and the Parmesan.

      Buon appetito!

      Wednesday, November 4, 2009

      "What's For Dinner?" Wednesday: BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

      Pulled pork sandwiches are a Southern barbecue favorite. Traditionally, pulled pork is smoked on the barbecue for hours, but my version allows you to have that Southern BBQ flavour, tonight!!!

      My quick and healthy version, uses chicken instead of pork, and poaches instead of smoking. Serve these sandwiches with some coleslaw and potato wedges for a quick and satisfying dinner.

      BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
      Makes 4 sandwiches
      • 1 box (900 mL) chicken stock
      • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
      • 1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, or use the recipe below
      • 4 kaiser buns, or any bun of your choice
      • Optional toppings: caramelized onions, horseradish, blue cheese crumbles, Swiss cheese, sauteed peppers, or anything else your heart desires 
      1.  Pour the stock into a medium sized sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
      2. Add the chicken thighs, bring back up to a boil then cover and lower the heat to low. Let simmer for 30 minutes.
      3. Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside.
      4. Pour the bbq sauce into a small saucepan over medium high heat and heat until warm.
      5. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull apart by hand into shreds and place in the saucepan with the barbecue sauce.
      6. Let the chicken re-heat in the sauce then place 1/4 of the chicken mixture onto each of the buns and top with any of the optional toppings.
      7. ENJOY!!!

      To make my homemade barbecue sauce:

      Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tsp. canola oil then add 1 small onion, chopped and 2 cloves of garlic, chopped and cook until the onion is translucent. Stir in 1 Tbsp. of tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add a small can (398 mL) diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 cup white vinegar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Once cool, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes a little over 1 cup of sauce.

        Monday, November 2, 2009

        Favorite Products: Sriracha Sauce

        I thought I would make my first favorite product blog on one of my favorite condiments; Sriracha hot chili sauce.

        I'm sure you've seen this familiar bottle of hot sauce with the green lid in your local grocery store. For those of you who've wondered what it is, I am here to explain. This hot chili sauce stems from Thailand and has a nice spicy flavour, without being too powerful, mixed with a touch of sweetness and a nice garlicky tang. I literally use it on and in everything. Try it as is on your pizza or to jazz up your scrambled eggs or mix it with mayo to make a spicy dip for sweet potato fries or grilled shrimp. I actually discovered this hot sauce at a Chinese restaurant in China town, when they served it as a dipping sauce for cashews, I know it sounds weird, but trust me try it.

        If you haven't tried this versatile hot sauce, do so now, you won't be disappointed!!!

        Sunday, November 1, 2009

        Party Time!!!

        My 4th annual Halloween bash took place this weekend, and was great!

        Here are some pictures of some of the food served at the party, feel free to contact me for a recipe if you're interested:

        Orange and Black Candy Table

        Ghost Cakes

        Ghost Cake (close up)

        Dirt n' Worms (chocolate mousse, cookie crumbs, gummy worms)

        Congealed Blood Shots (vodka jello shots with red corn syrup rim)

        Halloween Cupcakes

        Witch Fingers and Spider Webs (cookies)

        Flesh and Blood Clots (mango, peaches, mandarin oranges, raspberries and pomegranate)

        The Dessert Table

        Severed Hands (hand shaped crostini with roasted red pepper goat cheese)

        Halloween Quesadillas

        Witch's Hair (pesto and sundried tomato pasta salad)

        Witch's Brew (cheese spinach and artichoke dip)

        Pumpkin Patch (crudite platter)

        Brain (hummus with roasted red peppers)

        Some items that I made but didn't manage to get a picture of were; bandaged fingers (pigs in a blanket), bloody bones (honey bbq chicken wings), shrunken heads (mini pizzas), and sweet potato fingers (sweet potato fries served in black take out boxes).

        Looking forward to Halloween 2010!!!
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