Monthly Archives: May 2012

Raw Apple Muffins

Before we go any further, let me just state, for the record,  I’m really not a muffin person. If I’m going to eat copious amounts of sugar, fat and flour, I would prefer to ingest it in the form of a cookie. The fact that some people delude themselves into thinking that muffins are actually a healthy way to start the day irritates me. Your Raisin Bran Muffin is 360 calories and contains 10 grams of fat! You would be better off starting your day with a Chocolate Dipped Donut. with only 210 calories and 8 grams of fat! My husband is a muffin person. Enough said!

However, I digress. This is not a post about delusional breakfast idiots. Rather, it is a story about a wonderful Raw Apple Muffin, created by the incomparable Marion Cunningham, from her lovely little gem of a cookbook, “The Breakfast Book.” I meant to blog about this muffin last summer. I even got so far as baking them and taking the pictures, but then I must have gotten distracted with this.  But I was gently dragged back to these muffins by my daughter. She is dating a muffin person and he was coming for a visit. She wanted to bake something for him. I agreed that these were outstanding muffins, high praise indeed, coming from me, the notorious muffin hater. I took the pictures and she baked.

I hesitate to even call these muffins.  They are more like apples and raisins held together with a bit of batter. When you are mixing the batter you will probably look at the ingredient list and think you missed some liquid. You didn’t. This a supremely dense batter. It is best to use an ice cream scoop to transfer the batter to the muffin tin.

I have adapted Marion’s recipe slightly by gilding the lily. When these muffins come out of the oven, I dip the top of them in melted butter and then roll them in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. I am under no delusion that these are healthy, but they are delicious. The huge quantity of apples and raisins makes them super moist. The sugar cinnamon topping adds a bit of crunch. Muffin nirvana!

Click here to print the recipe for Raw Apple Muffins.

Rhubarb Curd Strawberry Tart and Some Surprising Discoveries

For those of you who have been following my blog for the past little while, you know that I have been suffering from some disc problems that landed me flat on my back in bed for about 8 days. I’m pleased to report that I am continuing to feel much better. But while I lay in bed, in agonizing pain, I became quite anxious about the fact that I was unable to do any of my regular forms of fitness (treadmill, elliptical, weight training and yoga).

I have come to rely on exercise as a stress reliever, as well as a way to allow me to control my weight. A mentally balanced sane person would be more concerned about the errant disc fragment lodged in her spine, pressing on the nerve that connects to her left hip flexor and quadriceps. Yet, I seemed to be more concerned about weight gain.

Surprising discovery # 1: Shockingly in the past 3 weeks I have actually lost 5 pounds! I am not quite sure how that happened. It may have something to do with muscle loss (muscle weighs more than fat) or it could have something to do with the fact that I was unable to get down the stairs to my kitchen, where we keep the food, for 9 days. Now don’t misunderstand me here.  I didn’t starve for 9 days. The lovely family members in my house did bring me food and water at regular intervals. It’s just that perhaps my regular intervals are a bit more frequent than theirs!

Again, a mentally balanced and sane person would look at this weight loss and begin planning healthy meals of quinoa, kale and lentils, so that the pounds do not creep back on. However, I saw a loss of 5 pounds and immediately started planning what I would bake and blog about next.

I knew I wanted to be seasonal and bake something with rhubarb. Of course the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie was a possibility, but I am not really a pie lover, unless it involves coconut cream. Searching for inspiration I turned to Melissa Clark’s “Cook This Now.” And sure enough, in the May chapter, she had a recipe for a Rhubarb Curd Tart. As I read through the recipe, I made surprising discovery #2: Curds are not just for lemons anymore! You can make a curd from any fruit juice you fancy.

While I love the tangy flavour of rhubarb, I find the stringy texture a bit off-putting. Melissa had come up with a genius way to get all the tang of rhubarb, without the texture. Puree the raw rhubarb in the food processor and then strain the pulp and squeeze out the juice. Use this juice instead of lemon, in the curd. Brilliant!

For the tart crust, I wanted to try a recipe from Anna Olsen. She has a new show called Bake, on the Food Network (Canada). This week’s episode featured desserts made with Pate Sable (tender tart dough). As I watched Anna prepare the dough, I made surprising discovery #3:  A hardboiled egg yolk contributes greatly to the texture and richness of Pate Sable. This European way of making tart dough was created by French pastry chef Pierre Herme.

The final tart was perfect. The crust was reminiscent of shortbread; crumbly and just a little bit sweet with the richness of butter (and egg!). The curd plays tricks on your mind. You see the yellow curd and you think lemon, but once you take a bite your mouth immediately recognizes the tart and tangy taste of rhubarb. Balanced by the sweetness of strawberries, this is one perfect bite. I think that should Anna and Melissa ever meet, they would be quite proud of their collaboration!

The secret ingredient to the rich crust is the yolk of a hardboiled egg! Butter and icing sugar are creamed together. The hard-boiled egg gets sieved and added. Additions of vanilla extract, salt, raw egg yolk and cake and pastry flour  complete the dough. I like to roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Transfer to tart pan with removable bottom. If the dough cracks while transferring, don’t sweat it. It’s a forgiving dough and is easy to patch. Trim off excess dough by running the rolling-pin across the tart pan. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans to bake.

While the tart is baking, prepare the curd. The idea that any juice can be turned into a curd has just blown my mind. I’m not sure why I only thought curd could be made with lemon. I guess I’m just not an out of the box kind of thinker, but now that I know, the possibilities are endless. I am planning a pomegranate curd tart for the fall! I always associate pomegranates with my mom. She used to make us strip down to our underwear and  go outside in the backyard to eat pomegranates, because the fruit stained so badly. Luckily, these days you can already buy the fruit juiced.

When making the curd, Melissa says to stand at the stove and whisk constantly for 18-20 minutes. I did not. I walked away for several minutes at a time and everything came out just fine. Although, I must admit, when I strained the curd, I did see a few bits of scrambled egg in the bottom of my strainer.

This tart would also be wonderful with fresh raspberries, but strawberries seemed like the right choice today.

Click here to print the recipe for Rhubarb Curd and Strawberry Tart.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tarts and a very sweet Mother’s Day.

Today I am grateful for several small and large blessings! I am grateful to be relatively pain free. If you read my last post,  you, may recall that I was in bed for over 8 days with terrible back and leg pain. The MRI revealed a bulging disc which was pressing on a nerve and causing me back pain. It seems to have eased greatly and I am back on my feet again. I feel grateful for a wonderful husband who brought me an extra hot skim milk latte in bed this morning.

Although I couldn’t be in Toronto today to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom, I am grateful to have 5 siblings all living there to celebrate with her. They gathered at my baby sister’s house and had a “friendly” game of softball. Some family members tend to get a bit competitive about these things so hopefully no one sprained a hamstring sliding into first base or got bonked on the head from being tagged out at home plate. I’m sure to get a play by play analysis very soon.

Finally, I am grateful for my sweet children. My oldest was unable to spend today with me, but he drove for over 5 hours to come home for a short visit yesterday. My middle child bought me a beautiful blue hydrangea plant and gave me a very fitting (and funny) card .

And my youngest, with the help of his sister, made me a video on YouTube, serenading me with Elvis’ “Love me Tender.” So sweet!

I made these tarts a few days ago and thought we would have them today for dessert. Unfortunately they were all gone the day I made them. Luckily I have other sweet things to satisfy me!

These tarts are the creation of Lucy Waverman, food columnist for the Globe and Mail. I have adapted the recipe somewhat.  The original recipe produced tarts that had a thin layer of caramel and then a thick layer of ganache. I doubled the caramel recipe so that the finished tarts would have a thick layer of both caramel and chocolate.I also added some salt to the caramel filling as well as a few decorative flakes on top of the ganache filling.

I made them in mini muffin tins. Not only do they look adorable, but there is no guilt at all involved in popping one (or three) of these into your mouth. The contrast in textures of this mini bite are what make it so special. Biting into the crisp flaky pastry you discover a silky smooth layer of bittersweet slightly salty caramel covered in a thick layer of chilled chocolate ganache. The ping on your tongue from a melting crystal of fleur de sel helps these tarts from being too cloyingly sweet.

Begin with making the caramel, as it needs time to cool and firm up. Sugar, water and corn syrup are boiled until a rich amber colour is reached. Finish with whipping cream and a pinch of kosher salt.

I like to roll out the pastry dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper, right after making the dough. Then I chill the rolled out dough. Be sure to roll the dough very thin (1/8 of an inch thick) for these mini tarts.

Let the tart shells cool completely before filling. I find it easiest to put the caramel filling into a disposable piping bag.

Finish off with chocolate ganache and a few flakes of fleur de sel.

Click here to print recipe for Salted Caramel Chocolate Tarts.

Pistachio Crusted Halibut and Feeling Like an Imposter.

At the beginning of April, I dashed off a hurried post about Alice’s New Classic Macaroons. I was rushing because I had a million things to do to get ready to travel to Toronto for Passover. I flew to Toronto on a Friday morning. Just before we took off, I checked my Blackberry to see if there were any messages for me. My inbox was empty. An hour later, when we landed, I turned my Blackberry back on and was shocked to see that I had over 76 emails in my inbox.

My first thought was that someone near and dear to me had been in a terrible accident or had a fatal heart attack. But as I scrolled through the messages, I realized that none of them were from anyone I knew. Most of them were from strangers telling me that they liked my latest post on macaroons.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how all these people had seen this post. In a normal day, I usually get about 225 hits on my blog. When I checked my blog stats later that day I was gobsmacked to see that over 2900 people had viewed my latest post. Yikes, I’d gone viral. Visions of book deals and television appearances began dancing in my head! I slowly floated down to earth when I realized what had happened. I had been “Freshly Pressed.” My blog host is WordPress. Each weekday, about ten new blog posts from over 450,000 posts are selected to be featured on the Freshly Pressed section of their homepage. I was one of the chosen!

For the next two weeks, each day, my Blackberry pinged repeatedly to tell me that I had another new follower. For those of you who don’t know what this means, simply put, a follower is someone who as decided that they like your blog so much that they want to be notified by e-mail every time you post a new blog entry. I must admit it was a bit unsettling to discover that that all these new people were “following” me. It was hard to resist the urge to look over my shoulder for them. I felt like such an imposter. These people were following me and I had nowhere to lead them.

Eventually I got over myself and posted a lovely entry about Farinata. Then I was gearing up to write about pistachio crusted halibut and somehow managed to injure my back. Unable to sit or stand without pain shooting down my leg, I crawled into bed. I found myself wishing, for the very first time in my life, that I had been born a male. Sitting down to pee was so painful. I have perfected the semi squat with very minimal splash. Thinking about patenting this position!

I’m not sure if it is a pinched nerve or a disc problem. I had an MRI today so I should get more information soon. I am on day 7 of bed rest and am finally able to prop myself up to type, so I thought I’d share this yummy halibut recipe with you.

I have been making this recipe for several years now. It is my go to recipe for any white fish. I never seem to tire of eating it. The crunch of the pistachio and cornmeal crust contrast so perfectly with the moist flaky halibut. The tangy yogurt-cucumber sauce is a perfect accompaniment. This recipe was created by the incredible grillmeister, Chris Schlesinger . His book “Thrill of the Grill” is like a grilling bible to many.

The fish is served with a spicy yogurt sauce. The heat in this cooling yogurt sauce comes from Maras pepper, a dried Turkish red pepper, that has a medium balanced lingering heat. I was unable to find it, so I used Aleppo pepper instead. Aleppo peppers come from Syria and they pack a moderate heat, with fruity undertones, mildly reminiscent of cumin. You could also put in a pinch of cayenne. The remaining sauce ingredients are lemon, yogurt, dill, scallions and cucumber. I like to remove the seeds from the cucumber, as they make the sauce too watery. A small teaspoon makes seed removal quite easy.

The pistachios for the crust need to be chopped quite fine or you will have problems getting the coating to stick to the fish. The halibut gets soaked in milk for about 30 minutes before breading. This is done to get rid any really strong fish odours. While halibut is mild, unless you live next to the ocean, chances are you are not buying just caught fish. The milk soak just refreshes the fish, sort of like when we shower after working out, to refresh us.

The fish goes into a hot pan coated with some olive oil. Once it is browned on both sides, it gets popped into a hot oven for the last bit of cooking.

Click here to print recipe for Pistachio-Crusted Halibut with Spicy Yogurt.