Butternut Squash and Tomato Soup with Coconut Bacon

bowl-72-dpiIf the combination of butternut squash and tomato sounds a bit strange, you’re not alone. It seemed like an odd pairing to me as well, when I read about it on bonappetit.com. But when I considered the elements more carefully, it made perfect sense. Butternut squash on it’s own makes quite a sweet soup, which I always enjoy for the first few spoonfuls,. But then it becomes cloying and not terribly nuanced. It always reminds me of baby food. But give the squash a shot of acid, in the form of a tomato and we’re talking a whole different ballgame of flavour. Rich and complex, each spoonful offers a fresh perspective.

The most difficult part of making this soup is cutting the butternut squash in half. Even when I use my 12 inch chef’s blade, my knife always gets stuck halfway through the squash. Then I lift the whole thing in the air and fling it back down on the cutting board, praying that the force will split the squash and I will escape unbloodied. It usually works.

Once you get the squash cut in half, scoop out the seeds, give it a slick of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Place each half facedown on a parchment lined baking sheet. Tuck a peeled clove of garlic under each half and roast in a hot oven for about 45 minutes, until soft.

Now comes the fun part. No need to scoop the flesh out of the shell. It just peels right off in one piece. It reminded me of when I was little and I’d watch my mom peel apples with a paring knife. She’d get all the peel off in one long coil. I thought she was magic! peeling-the-skin-off-is-funOnce the squash is cooked, sauté some onions, jalapeño and ginger until soft. Add the squash, canned tomatoes and some liquid (water, chicken or vegetable broth) and let the whole lot simmer for about 20 minutes. An immersion blender makes quick work of pureeing.dicing-onionsOk, let’s get to the coconut bacon! Which is’t really bacon at all, just coconut flakes tarted up with some liquid smoke, tamari sauce, maple syrup and brown sugar. The whole lot gets baked until brown and crispy.coconut-bacon-contains-no-actual-baconCoconut bacon is the genius idea of Molly over at mynameisyeh. It is crunchy, a little bit smoky, salty and sweet. It is the perfect garnish for this soup and any leftover is fantastic in salad. I must admit , I’m a little bit addicted to it. soup-for-3f

Click here to print recipe for Butternut-Squash-Tomato-Soup-with-Coconut-Bacon.


Brown Butter Salted Caramel Crunch Cake

cake-sliceswhole-cake-2Last week was my birthday and I made my own cake. Some people think that having to bake your own birthday cake is quite sad, but I’m not one of them. When you bake your own cake, you get exactly what you want. I gave quite a bit of thought about what to bake. (Way more thought than is probably healthy, I’ll admit).

As an early birthday present to myself I ordered Bobbette and Belle’s new cookbook. I read through it and stuck post it notes on over half  half the pages. The photography is gorgeous and there are so many recipes that inspired me. It is a very well written book with lots of tips and techniques. While some of the recipes are not for rookie bakers, the instructions they give are very thorough.
bb_book_fullsizeAs soon as I saw their Salted Caramel Toffee Cake, I knew I found my intended. Three layers of  classic vanilla cake filled with homemade salted caramel buttercream, toffee pieces and a caramel drizzle. 

This was my starting point, but I made a few changes. here’s how my cake came together.


I started with their recipe for a classic vanilla cake but I browned the butter first. cake-ingredientsBrown butter adds a layer of toasty, nutty deliciousness. Making it couldn’t be simpler. Butter is composed of butterfat, milk protein and water. When you brown butter, you are essentially toasting the milk protein. As you heat the butter, and it begins to bubble and sputter away, the water evaporates and the hot butterfat begins to cook the milk solids, turning them from creamy yellow to a splendid speckled brown colour and your whole kitchen smells like toasted hazelnuts. It’s insanely gorgeous!

It is best to brown the butter in a light coloured pot, so that you can easily monitor the browning process. Note that only the milk solids will turn brown. the butterfat stays clear. As soon as you reach the perfect brown colour, pour the butter out of the hot pot to let it cool completely.white potbrowned butterYou will need to chill the brown butter and let it harden before you can cream it with the sugar.creaming-brown-butter-and-sugarDivide the batter evenly into 3 pans and bake.cake-batter-goes-into-pansNext I decided to alternate layers of brown butter vanilla cake with layers of almond meringue. I thought the textural difference of pillowy soft cake layers would be fantastic with chewy crunchy meringue. soft-peaks-for-almond-meringuepiping-meringueA salted caramel buttercream would be the perfect glue to hold all these layers together.buttercream-one-cube-at-a-timebuttercream-2Admittedly, there are a lot of components to prepare for this cake. Don’t try to do it all in one day. Make the components on day one and assemble on day 2. I have included detailed instructions on how to make all the parts, in the recipe below.

Click here to print recipe for Brown-Butter-Salted-Caramel-Crunch-Cake

Light the candles and make a wish!make-a-wish




Autumn Grain Bowl

Leaf peepers everywhere are bummed out that the fall foliage was delayed this year. I’m still walking around without socks, which makes me very happy, because I hate socks. (But I do love a great pair of black tights. They smooth everything out and make me feel so sleek.)

While I have yet to pull out my heavy sweaters, I know that fall is officially here because the pumpkin spice haters are out in full force and my Trader Joe’s annual pumpkin spice flyer arrived in the mail.

I’m going to pass on pumpkin spice and ease my way into fall with an autumn grain bowl. grain-bowls-for-4
While everyone is roasting their broccoli and brussels sprouts, I’m bucking the trend and going raw. I love raw broccoli when the florets are chopped into tiny pieces and the stems are stripped of their woody bark, and the tender core is thinly sliced.  chopping-broccoliusing-mandoline-for-broccoli-stemsShredded brussels sprouts, pickled red onions, cucumbers, radishes and mint round out the crunch party.veggies-all-choppedThe dressing for this grain bowl packs an umami punch, thanks to anchovy paste!derssing-ingredientsI like to dress the vegetables at least 30 minutes before eating to give the salad a chance to marinate and soften up a bit. My grain of choice is farro, but it would be delicious with brown rice, barley, wheat berries or quinoa, if you must! I served the farro on the side and let everyone fill their own bowl. A shaving of Parmesan to top the bowl is an excellent idea.ready-for-dressing

Click here to print recipe for Autumn-Grain-Bowl.


Dukkah Crusted Salmon

2-platesThis week, I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the Toronto Blue Jays or this salmon recipe. But, let’s put aside baseball and talk about Dukkah Crusted Salmon. Dukkah is a mid-east nut and spice mixture, chockfull of crunchy hazelnuts, pistachios and sesame seeds, scented with cumin, coriander and nigella seeds. dukkah-ingredientsA food processor makes quick work of the nuts and spices. dukkahI have waxed poetic about dukkah in this space before. (Grilled Flatbread with Dukkah, Roasted Asparagus with Dukkah). It is such a versatile mixture. My version of dukkah crusted salmon was inspired by Donna Hay’s recipe. To use the dukkah alone as a crust would be too heavy and overpowering. Donna suggests lightening up the coating by mixing in some puffed amaranth cereal. Too lazy to go to the store to hunt down puffed amaranth, I decided that Rice Krispies would be an excellent substitute.ready-for-crusting-1coating-fish-in-dukkah The fragrant crunchy coating yields way to meltingly tender rich salmon. Guys, this is my new favourite way to eat salmon.

Click here to print recipe for Dukkah-Crusted-Salmon.


Go Jays Go!!

Irish Soda Bread

with-teaIf you happened to have been visiting Ireland during the first week of September this year, and noticed a shortage of butter, I apologize. My bad. That was me, eating my way through Galway, Killarney and Dublin, one loaf of bread at a time, slathered with Irish butter and salt.bread-and-butterMost folks go to Ireland to drink Guinness or Irish Whiskey. When the customs officer asked us the purpose of our visit I think I shocked him when I divulged I was going for the butter.

What makes Irish butter so good? Turns out that the key to their delicious butter is grass. Over two thirds of Irish land is dedicated to farming and agriculture.  80% of this land is used to grow grass, hence the country’s nickname, “The Emerald Isle”. Irish cows graze freely on grass for 10 months a year. emerald-isleIrish butter has a deep golden colour, owing to the beta carotene in grass. Contrast that to North America, where most dairy cows are fed a diet comprised of primarily corn and soybeans. This produces a paler coloured butter, less rich and creamy than Irish butter. Creamy and sweet with a pure clean butter flavour and silky texture, Irish butter is the gold standard. The most well-known brand of Irish butter is Kerrygold. Luckily for us, it’s widely available here at home.kerrygold-vs-north-american-butterI discovered the joys of Irish soda bread and butter on our very first morning.  We landed in Dublin after flying all night and rented a car to drive to Galway, on the west coast. We stopped halfway through our 3 hour drive for our first full Irish breakfast. My plate arrived piled high with eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes and tomatoes. All very delicious, but I quickly lost interest and abandoned it once I took my first bite of the soda bread, thickly spread with salted butter and jam.

Turns out that almost every restaurant bakes their own soda bread and the variations seemed endless. My rule for bread eating is, that unless it’s stellar, I try not to waste the calories. I was powerless to resist all that amazing bread, and it goes without saying that the butter put me in my happy place.

Irish soda bread boasts a craggy intensely crunchy crust and a dense chewy interior. There are many different versions and variations, but the traditional recipe consists of flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The power of baking soda is activated by the acid in the buttermilk. 

My version is adapted from Clodagh McKenna‘s book Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen. She uses equal parts of white all-purpose and whole wheat flours. I loaded up my loaf with golden flax seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and raisins.

Irish butter, flaky sea salt and tart cherry jam make excellent accompaniments to the bread. Any leftover is delicious toasted all week long!butter-salt-and-jam

Click here to print recipe for Irish-soda-bread.