Malted Chocolate Brownies

stacked upmenorah 4 The first night of Chanukah is this week, on Tuesday night.  Flushed with the success of my Beehive challahs at Rosh Hashanah, I. wanted to create something special for Chanukah. A crazy thought floated into my head. What about building a menorah out of brownies? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wasn’t really sure how to go about creating it. I wasn’t one of those kids that played with building blocks, Leggo or puzzles. Barbie was more my thing.

I started with my favourite brownie recipe from Chef Michael Smith. I decided to switch out the cocoa powder with malted milk powder and added in some chopped malted milk balls for extra crunch. ingredientssiftingready to bakeI chilled the brownies until firm and then I cut out an oval for the base. Using a small round cookie cutter I cut out little circles for the candle holders. I did a slightly larger circle for the shamash (helper) candle. ready to assembleI finally got a chance to use my food stylist tweezers! I mixed up some blue royal icing and glued on some edible blue pearls.  using tweezers like a real food stylistmenorah baseTo hold the candles I glued each one to a malted milk ball. I figured out that I needed to trim the bottom and top of the balls flat before gluing with royal icing.candles-2Even if you decide not to make a menorah, these malted chocolate brownies would make a delicious addition to your Chanukah party.cutting browniesdusting with cocoa powder

 

Click here to print recipe for Malted Chocolate Brownies.

 

with milk

 

Speculoos Townhouse Cookies

let it snow 1If you’ve ever tried the joy that is cookie butter, then you know the flavour of a Speculoos cookie. Speculoos (or sometimes spelled speculaas) is a Belgian cookie. Imagine a gingersnap on steroids. Bolder and much more aggressive than typical gingersnaps,  Speculoos cookies are brimming with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, ginger, and cardamom.

Of course, you can buy ready made Speculoos cookies, so why would you want to make your own? Um, giant townhouse speculoos cookie snow globe! Need I say more? Can you imagine a more adorable holiday centerpiece?with a bowWhen I started researching for this post, I emailed my Belgian friend Brigitte to ask her for her mom’s authentic Speculoos cookie recipe. I figured every Belgian grandmother has her favourite recipe and I’d use that as my starting point. Apparently, her mom has a speculoos cheesecake recipe, a speculoos ice cream recipe, but no speculoos cookie recipe. She never saw the need to make her own. So, I turned to the King Arthur baking website and found a promising recipe. Brigitte helped me make them. While they were good, Brigitte said that they really didn’t taste like the speculoos cookies she ate growing up.

I tinkered with the recipe and came up with my own version. While they’re not exactly like the storebought, they are very delicious!spicesAs soon as the dough is made I divide it into 2 pieces and roll each half between 2 sheets of parchment paper, to a 1/4 inch thickness. Then I freeze the dough for about 30 minutes before cutting it into shapes. So much easier to roll soft dough.cutting housesThe townhouse cookie cutters are from coppergifts.comicing housesI also made a batch of my favourite Thick and Chewy Gingerbread dough to create some trees for my landscape. tree cookies

Click here for the recipe for Speculoos Cookies.

star tree topper

Roasted Squash Wedges with Pomegranate, Chermoula and Tahini

3 platesPeople tell my husband all the time how lucky he is. They imagine that being married to a food blogger is heaven, with something fresh and exciting for dinner every night. I’m here to dispell that image. I like to shoot in natural light. The optimal time for shooting in my kitchen is between 11 am -2 pm. By dinnertime, the food is cold and has been manhandled so much, nobody would want to eat it.

Often he will arrive home to a kitchen that looks like a tornado went through it. When I’m shooting, I try out different plates, bowls, and assorted props to get the right look. Those dishes pile up on the counter and in the sink. He generously and uncomplainingly washes those dishes. Curiously, he is opposed to drying dishes. He just likes to pile them up to let them air dry. But I’m not criticizing.

On days when I’m not shooting a new post, I’m just like you. I have a small repertoire of meals that I make on a weekly basis. Roasted squash is one of those items in the rotation. I either cut it into french fries or round circles. I always use butternut squash. I’m in a squash rut.

On a visit to the market last week, I was inspired to up my squash game and try some different varieties. Assorted Squash The jade green ones with the light green stripes are Kabocha squash. They are a Japanese squash that is fairly new to North America. Kabocha squash has a delicate honeyed sweetness and a smooth, almost fiberless texture. No need to peel this baby as the skin is very thin and roasts up crispy and delicious.

The deep orange ones, that look like they are topped with a Turk’s turban are aptly named Turban Squash. They have so much personality. The taste is quite mild and the texture is floury, making it perfect for soups. Mostly it’s used as a decorative squash because it’s just so cute.

The smaller orange and yellow squash are known as Sweet Dumplings. Diminutive in size but mighty in flavour, these little guys are sweet and delicious. Bonus points because the skin is edible and you don’t have to peel them. I sliced a Kobacha and a Sweet Dumpling into wedges and removed the seeds.cutting turban squashThe October issue of delicious magazine was the source for this gorgeous dish. I adapted it slightly. spices

ready for roasting Once roasted the dish is garnished with toasted salted pumpkin seeds and pomegranate. I added some salty ricotta salata cheese, but feta or goat cheese would also be great.Pomegranate There are two sauces to drizzle on top. The first is a chermoula sauce, a spicy herb sauce often used in Moroccan cuisine.The second sauce is a tahini-based mixture. While you could certainly serve this without the sauces, they really elevate the dish to something special.

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Squash Wedges with Pomegranate, Chermoula, and Tahini.

1 plate

 

Hibiscus and Grapefruit Gin and Tonic

with a cucumber garnishGin and tonic is not really my drink of choice. I’m not much of a hard liquor drinker. Perhaps it has something to do with an unfortunate evening with vodka when I was in junior high school. But that’s a story for another time. My husband, on the other hand, loves gin and tonic.

At our family reunion weekend this past summer, I hired a wonderful caterer to help out with all the cooking. We were a big group and I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all weekend, missing out on all the fun. Erin, the owner of the catering company, suggested we set up a gin and tonic bar for the first night when everyone arrived. I quickly informed her that I didn’t drink gin and tonic. She told me that, clearly, I have not tried the right gin and tonic and she was on a mission to convert me. I agreed, with the caveat that we have some wine and Prosecco ready, just in case. The Botanist and FevertreeI was fully expecting to take a polite sip, smile and say, “Thanks, that’s lovely.” and quietly pour the drink down the drain when she wasn’t looking. I’m terrible at confrontation.

She mixed up a cocktail using The Botanist Gin, Fever-Tree Tonic Water, and a squeeze of fresh lime. I took a sip and discovered that “Say. I like Gin and Tonic. I do!!” Everyone adored this delicious drink. The gin is created using 22 hand foraged natural botanicals. Gin is traditionally made with juniper which I find has a strong pine presence. The Botanical gin does use juniper but it is judiciously balanced with other botanicals including mint, elderflower, sage, orange peel and thyme to name a few.

Fever-Tree tonic water is the perfect accompaniment to The Botanist Gin, as it is crafted using floral botanicals. The combination of this tonic and that gin are culinary alchemy. I should mention that this is not a sponsored post, but it sure could be. I have come over to the dark side!!pouring tonic-2In early October we were out for dinner in Toronto and the waiter handed us a gin and tonic menu. One of the cocktails featured The Botanist gin and Fever-Tree tonic. It arrived at the table with a little tray containing dried hibiscus flowers, cucumber and a slice of grapefruit. The hibiscus flowers turned the drink a pretty pink colour and added a lemony-tart and berry-rich flavour. The grapefruit upped the pucker factor and made this an extremely easy to sip, refreshing drink. all the fixingsLast week, as my husband was sipping his gin and tonic and I was enjoying a glass of wine (I’m not totally converted yet!) he asked me how many calories we were each consuming. I did the math and discovered that 1.5 ounces of gin with 6 ounces of tonic water contains about 180 calories. A 5-ounce glass of white wine, I boasted, is only 120 calories. He then asked me when was the last time I poured a 5 ounce glass of wine? Ouch!

Click here to print recipe for Hibiscus and Grapefruit Gin and Tonic.

with a grapefruit twist

Pear Fritters

on gold platter 1As if I really needed another reason to be grateful that I am a Canadian and not an American citizen, I found one. The mighty tonka bean!  Turns out they are illegal in America, but perfectly safe to purchase here in Canada.

Tonka beans are a major source of coumarin, a highly aromatic organic chemical compound naturally occurring in many plants, including cassia cinnamon, lavender, and bison grass. The fear and confusion stem from the fact that coumarin is used in the production of Coumadin®, a blood thinner. But the chemical structure of coumarin is changed when it is used in the production of Coumadin®. Coumarin, naturally occurring in tonka beans and other plants will not act as a blood thinner. Yet, the FDA has banned tonka beans. Interestingly enough, they have not put a ban on any other plant naturally containing coumarin. tonka beansI discovered tonka beans while I was in Charleston South Carolina last month. I attended a cooking class and the chef whipped out a vial of contraband tonka bean. When we asked him how he got his hands on them he just smiled and said, “I have a guy.”

They grow in South America. While tiny in size, only 1-inch long, they are huge in aroma and flavour. They are reminiscent of vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon with a hint of nuttiness reminding me of almonds. To use them, they must be grated, much like whole nutmeg. A microplane grater does a great job of this.

I like Bosc or red or green Anjou pears for this dessert. They have a denser flesh than other pear varieties. They become more tender when fried, but they don’t turn to mush. horizontal pearsI left the peel on and just sliced them vertically so that each slice retained its pear shape. A basic fritter batter contains flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, egg, butter or oil and usually water or milk. To bump up the pear flavour I used pear cider for my liquid. I added half a grated tonka bean to the batter. If you can’t get tonka beans, add a bit of vanilla and almond extract to the batter. The second half of the grated tonka bean gets mixed into the sugar-cinnamon for topping the fried fritters.

Heat the oil to about 375°F for optimal frying. You want a crispy golden crust and a tender interior. They only take 2-3 minutes per side to fry.

Have a baking sheet lined with paper towels as well as your grated tonka bean-cinnamon sugar mixture ready before you start frying. Make sure to sprinkle with the topping while the fritters are still hot. Even if you omit the tonka bean, these fritters are freaking delicious. A burnished golden brown outer crust gives way to the sweet and creamy pear encased in the center.Sifting cinnamon and sugar 1They would be delicious with a cold glass of pear cider.on gold platter bite takenCould be a fun substitute for sufganiyah this year at Chanukah!fritters for 2

Click here for the recipe for Pear fritters.