Grain Bowls

in a black bowl 2Happy Victoria Day to all my Canadian friends! Hope this long holiday weekend has left you feeling more relaxed and a pound or two heavier than you were last week! Even though it’s technically still spring, I think of the Victoria Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer. Here in Ontario, the weather co-operated and we had glorious heat and sunshine. We deserve it!!

We came up to the cottage and all three of our kids descended upon us for a visit. Nothing makes me happier than having us all sleeping under the same roof again. My oldest son brought his girlfriend and my daughter brought three friends, so it was a full house.

I had lots of help in the kitchen. My daughter and her friends planned and cooked dinner on Saturday night. We had a Mexican Fiesta complete with frozen lime margaritas. On the menu were fish tacos with slaw, sweet potato and black bean salad, mango salsa, grilled pineapple salsa and guacamole. It was all very delicious and I just sat and sipped my cocktail while they cooked.

For lunch on Saturday, I served grain bowls. These are perfect to serve for lunch for a large group of people. Everything can be prepared in advance and set out on a buffet. Everyone helps themselves and takes only what they like. Vegans, vegetarians and carnivores are all satisfied. ready to assembleI have provided a recipe but really, just use whatever is fresh and looks good. Just make sure you have a variety of colours and textures. I roasted some chickpeas with cumin and hot smoked paprika for a bit of heat. Sautéed corn and cherry tomatoes provided a bit of sweetness. Raw broccoli and shaved Brussels sprouts added crunch, while radishes added a perfect bitter note. Creamy avocado is always welcome at this party. Toasted nuts or seeds would also be a great addition. The dressing is a fresh and light combo of mint, parsley, lemon juice, honey and olive oil.

For grains, I used brown rice and farro. I have never had much luck cooking brown rice before. It always came out gummy. I recently tried Uncle Ben’s brown rice and it cooked up perfectly. The grains stayed separate and had a beautiful chewy texture. After cooking your grains, spread them out on a baking sheet to allow them to cool. That way, they won’t clump up and get gummy. Feel free to use barley, wheat berries, kasha, and ok, you can use quinoa if you must!

Store any leftovers in little containers, to keep all the ingredients separate and make a breakfast bowl in the morning, topped with a fried egg!

Click here to print recipe for Grain Bowls.

in a white bowl

Crispiest Ever Roasted Smashed Potatoes

on blue serving platterComfort comes in many forms. When you’re little, nothing soothes like a thumb or a well worn stuffed friend. MousieWhen you get older, solace for some can be found in a box of Milk Duds mixed with popcorn at the movies. Oh, perhaps that’s just me.

I think we can all agree that roasted potatoes top the list of comfort foods. The ultimate roast potato is a study in contrasts: the outside should be shatteringly crisp, crunchy and salty, while the inside is tender and fluffy.

Start with mini potatoes. Multi-coloured ones are pretty. Rosemary, garlic, olive oil and plenty of salt are part of the plan.ready to rollBegin by giving the potatoes a head start in a pot of boiling salted water. About 10-15 minutes should suffice. We just want the skin of the potato to be tender.boiled potatoesThen the fun begins! Drain potatoes and spread them out on a baking sheet. Use a potato masher or fork to gently break the surface of the potatoes. I love my spring loaded masher. Be gentle here. You are not looking to make mashed potatoes. You just want to break the surface of the skins and allow the flesh to to be exposed. You are essentially creating more surface area, more little nooks and crannies to be crisped up in the oven. gently smash potatoes

Click here to print recipe for Crispy Smashed Roasted Potatoes.

I like to think of them as the adult version of thumb sucking! Share if you must, it’s the grown up thing to do. potatoes for one

Ultimate Chocolate Birthday Cake

topsy turvy 3When I watched Ina Garten and Tyler Florence collaborate on this birthday cake for Tyler’s 7-year-old son Hunter, two things occurred to me. The first being, what an odd and unlikely duo! How did Ina and Tyler even come together on this project in the first place? My second thought was, what a cool idea for a birthday cake. For some reason, I only associate stacked cakes with weddings. This off kilter, cake was perfect to help celebrate my youngest son’s birthday. He turned 23 at the end of April.1 slice cI didn’t use Ina’s recipe because I have a favourite go-to recipe. It was created by Noreen Gilletz, slightly adapted by me, and comes together in the food processor in a few short minutes. It is the moistest chocolate cake I have ever tried. Deep, dark  intense chocolate flavour with a fudgy dense texture. Half a cup of strong coffee enhances the chocolate flavour.cake mise en placeinto food processorready to bakeThe deep dark chocolate buttercream is the genius creation of Nila over at www.thetoughcookie.comchocolate buttercreamI had some leftover salted caramel buttercream from making macarons so I sandwiched the layers with it, and frosted the top and sides with the chocolate buttercream. If you don’t feel like preparing two kinds of buttercream, it is still fantastic with just chocolate buttercream.salted caramel buttercream between layersYou will need two round 8-inch, two round 6-inch and two round 4-inch cake pans, as well as some cardboard cake circles.ready to frosticing cake 2ready to stacktopsy turvy 1 625If the thought of building this Topsy Turvy cake makes you nervous, just make a double layer 9-inch traditional cake. It’s still very special and quite beautiful.Let's party 13 slices 2

Click here to print recipe for Topsy Turvy Chocolate Birthday Cake.

Click here to print recipe for Perfect Chcolate Birthday Cake.

Click here to print recipe for Salted Caramel Buttercream 2.

2 slices 625 sq

Spring Chicken

ready to eat When spring finally arrives, most people don’t normally turn to braising as a cooking method. But you guys don’t read this blog because I’m like most people. I promise I will hustle out to the BBQ very soon, but this braised spring chicken recipe really deserves your attention now. Mindy Fox created this recipe for epicurious.com. I adapted it slightly.

I decided on using boneless skinless thighs for this to hasten the cooking time. Feel free to use bone-in thighs or breasts if that’s how you roll. Just promise me you won’t select boneless breasts. They are not meant for braising. I treated the thighs to a generous seasoning of ground fennel seeds, paprika, salt and pepper.seasoning chickenAfter an initial browning, the thighs are simmered gently in white wine and chicken stock. The proper technique is to have the chicken pieces only halfway submerged in the braising liquid. Don’t drown them.

Leeks are thinly sliced and slowly sautéed until meltingly tender. Fat spears of asparagus and green peas pretty much shout “SPRING”. I used frozen peas because fresh are still a few weeks away for us here in Ottawa. Mini yellow, red and purple potatoes seemed like a good idea so I invited them to this spring fête as well!slicing leeksThe braising liquid gets reduced and treated to a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Scatter chopped dill and lemon zest over everything and celebrate spring.pouring on sauce 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Spring Chicken.

ready to eat 2

Mystery Solved

Last week I posted about my epic failure with Passover Lemon Pistachio Bars . I made a nut crust for my lemon squares because flour is not permitted on Passover. When I baked the lemon squares, the crust floated to the top and the lemon filling sunk to the bottom – sort of upside down lemon squares!

I put out a call for assistance in helping me figure out where I went wrong. I got lots of feedback and suggestions. Thanks. You guys are the best! The mystery is solved. I received a comment from my neighbour Jackie.  If like me, you geek out over the science of baking, reading her explanation will fascinate you.

Here’s what she wrote:
I may have the answer. It has to do with the specific gravity of the ingredients. Nuts are lighter than water, so will float. Ground nuts remain as little pieces of nuts after baking. So, a crust mixture with a high proportion of nuts will be far less dense than the filling. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of flour to form a cake/pastry matrix which may have locked in the nuts pieces.

To confirm my suspicion, I looked up the FAO Density Database (2012). Water of course has a specific gravity of approximately 1 gram /mL, depending on temperature. (I love that there’s a Density Database!!)

almonds 0.46 grams/mL
pistachios, out of shell, 0.65 grams/mL

fruit juice 1.06 g/mL
butter 0.91 g/mL

So, given that the gravity of nuts is less than the gravity of the lemon filling (fruit juice and butter), it makes sense that the nuts floated to the top. I can go to bed happy tonight. Thanks Jackie!

In other good news, I no longer have to feel guilty about the 10 pounds of butter I keep in my freezer for when the urge to bake hits. Check it out  in this article: Pass the butter!