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.

Cider Glazed Apple Bundt Cake

with whole and sliced applesI happen to have a surplus of apples, so we’re baking apple cake around here this week. I have my go-to my favourite apple cake recipe, but I was intrigued by this recipe from the September issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. In addition to the apples in the batter, they added apple cider to the batter and glaze. A full litre of apple cider is reduced down to one cup to really concentrate the flavour.

The recipe fills a large 12 cup bundt pan, but because I can’t resist anything mini, I used my bundlette pan. I also made a small loaf with the leftover batter. loaf and minissingle miniThe batter comes together quickly. You don’t even have to bust out the mixer.

The baked cake gets brushed with some of that reduced cider and the remaining cider is mixed with icing sugar to create a yummy glaze.drizzling glaze 1

Click here to print the recipe for Cider Glazed Apple Bundt Cake.

with tea

 

Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma

chicken, onions and pitaI live in Ottawa, while my mom, brother and four sisters all live in Toronto. I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I would like to. Admittedly, we have become a little lazy about communicating with each other. These days, it’s mostly emails and texts and very few phone calls.

Last week I got an email from my brother. The subject line read, “Mom passed!!” My heart stopped. Logically I knew that my brother would never tell me that mom died in an email. But in the heat of the moment, I got nervous, and for good reason. My family and I have a bit of a sketchy history when it comes to communicating about death.

When I was in University, I came home one weekend for a visit. I asked my sister where Heidi, our dog, was. Apparently, my parents had put her down a month ago, and no one remembered to tell me. I was also the very last one of my siblings to know that my dad died, although to be fair, the signs were there.

You will be relieved to know that mom did not die. The body of the text read: “Mom passed her drivers test today. 2 more yrs of driving at least. Wish her Mazel Tov!” My mom is 82 years old. In  Ontario, after the age of 80, you must take a test every 2 years to ensure that you are still fit to drive. I fired off an email to my brother with the subject line, Don’t send an email with the heading “Mom passed”. It could be misinterpreted.” Then I promptly called my mom to say congrats and I love you. For the record, all my sisters had momentary heart failure and my brother properly apologized. 

The recipe for this chicken shawarma came to my attention via a text from my baby sister. She is always sending me links to different recipes she thinks I would like. She said she’d never read a recipe with so many positive reviews.

Recipes are like rumours. You must always consider the source. This recipe is from an impeccable source, Sam Sifton, food editor of The New York Times. If you don’t already subscribe to cooking.nytimes.comget on it right away! It is one of the best food websites. Their Mobile App is fantastic. Not only can you save and categorize their database of over 18,000 recipes, you can also save non-NYT recipes to your recipe box. I finally have a way to save all the online recipes I am inspired by, in one place. Genius! Subscribing to their daily newsletter is free, but they charge $5 US per month for the App.

Boneless skinless chicken thighs are bathed in a highly flavourful marinade.spice rubLet the thighs marinate for up to 12 hours in the fridge. If you’re short on time, even an hour will still produce spectacular results. ready to marinateAdd a quartered red onion to the sheet pan and bake the whole thing off for 30-40 minutes. ready for roastingIf you have time, mix up some great sides to go with the shawarma. I made an Israeli salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and cilantro and dressed it simply with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I doctored up some store-bought hummus with a sprinkle of smoked paprika,  toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of good olive oil. I thinned some tahini with lemon juice and hot water for a drizzling sauce. I also added some charred corn slaw that I had leftover from last night’s dinner. Sour dills and hot sauce are more than welcome to join this party.all the fixins Stuff everything into a pita pocket or lay it flat and roll it up. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you have plenty of napkins to catch all the drips. This is messy eating at its finest. stuffedflat to roll

Click here to print Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma.

make your own 1

Caramel Honeycomb Birthday Cake

make a wishRegular readers of this blog know that I bake my own birthday cake every year. My girlfriend Paula learned this the hard way. I am still apologizing to her for my rudeness!

My birthday cakes are usually multi-recipe, all day baking extravaganzas. It’s my birthday present to myself. I get exactly what I want and I get to spend time alone, baking in my kitchen, my happy place3 slices of cakeThis year’s cake was inspired by a trip to Charleston South Carolina we took with our friends The Grizzlies. One of the highlights of our weekend was a cooking class with Chef Vinson Petrillo at The Zero George Hotel, a charming 16 room boutique hotel. Chef Vinson is a recent transplant to the Charleston area. Originally from New Jersey, he honed his craft in New York. When I asked him what brought him to Charleston, he replied simply, “My wife wanted kids.” Chef PetrilloThey are now the proud and very busy parents of two little ones, aged 1 and 2. As I observed Chef Vincent during our 3-hour class it became obvious to me that he must be an excellent dad. He handled all our questions and comments with great patience and equanimity!

For the first course, he cooked butternut squash by the sous vide technique. He followed that up by sauteeing it in brown butter and finally topped it with torched marshmallow. Sort of a glorified sweet potato casserole but so much better.

For the main course, he prepared sauteed snapper. Watching him cook and plate the food was just a joy. His passion for and knowledge of the ingredients were obvious.

The dessert course was a Chocolate Cremeux, essentially a chocolate pudding, topped with big shards of honeycomb. My iPhone photo does not do it justice.chocolate cremeaux with honeycombIf you’ve ever had a Crunchie chocolate bar or sponge toffee, you know what Honeycomb is. Essentially, you make caramel and add baking soda at the end to produce a bubbly toffee confection. This honeycomb topping was the inspiration for my birthday cake.honeycombBefore he began cooking, Chef Vinson emphasized the importance of “mise en place”. Read through the recipe, measure and chop all your ingredients and set out all pans and tools you need before you start cooking. Nowhere is this more important than in the preparation of honeycomb.

You will need a candy thermometer and a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat sheet. The process goes quickly, so don’t walk away from the stove. Chef Patrillo left his honeycomb unadorned, but I dipped the corners of mine in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled them with a bit of flaky sea salt because that’s the way we roll around here!

 

For the cake, I turned to Brian Hart Hoffman’s book “Bake From Scratch.” I thought his classic golden cake with buttermilk would be a perfect base for honeycomb.cake ingredientsadding eggsbatter in cake pansI filled and covered the cake with a salted caramel buttercream.piping icingWith a cup of tea or a glass of milk, this indulgent cake is the perfect way to celebrate a birthday.with a cup of teawith a glass of milk

Click here to print the recipe for Caramel Honeycomb Birthday Cake.

a slice taken out of the cake