Author Archives: saltandserenity

Triple Coconut Macaroons

pyramid 2 625 sqThese are my absolute favourite macaroons. That’s macaroon, with 2 o’s – the coconut variety, not the pain-in-the-ass Diva, ground almond and meringue variety, which are macarons, with one o. This recipe for Triple Coconut Macaroons, comes from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. I have been making these since the recipe first came out in 2000. Why I have waited so long to share with you is a mystery to me. I promise you, I’m reallly not a petty person.

Although I could make them any time of year, I always associate coconut macaroons with Passover. As a child we bought our macaroons from Open Window Bakery in Toronto. They made both vanilla and chocolate coconut macaroons. I preferred the simplicity of the vanilla ones. I found the chocolate ones too chocolatey for me. The cocoa powder masked the flavour of the coconut, which is exactly the point of coconut macaroons. I always felt sorry for those families that had to get their macaroon fix from the can. They were gummy and chewy, in short, just awful.
00091_chocolatemacaroons_10coconut macaroons in can
The quintessential coconut macaroon is slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, without being gluey. They should be sweet, but not cloyingly so, and they should be bursting with shreds of sweetened coconut. A final dip in a melted chocolate bath, to cover the lower third of the macaroon would not be a bad thing.
in polka dot bowl
Cook’s Illustrated’s test kitchen discovered that the choice of coconut in the macaroon makes a big difference in both taste and texture. Unsweetened shredded coconut, which is drier than sweetened, solved the gluey texture issue.  Sweetened shredded coconut packed more flavor than unsweetened, and together they worked very well. To add one more layer of coconut flavor, they tried cream of coconut and cracked the coconut macaroon code.

Cream of coconut, is not to be confused with coconut cream or coconut milk. Here is a little coconut product primer:
coconut milkcream of coconutKTC-Creamed-Coconut-Big
Coconut cream is very similar to coconut milk but contains less water. Coconut cream is made by simmering equal parts of shredded coconut and water until frothy,  then straining the mixture through a cheesecloth, squeezing out as much liquid as possible; this is coconut milk. The coconut milk is refrigerated and allowed to set. Coconut cream is the thick non-liquid part that separates and rises to the top of the coconut milk.

Cream of coconut is coconut cream that has been sweetened. It is used most commonly in piña coladas. This is the one you want for this recipe. I usually find it in Asian supermarkets, although some larger stores carry it in the drinks aisle.

Creamed coconut is a compressed block of coconut flesh which has been slightly dehydrated and sold in a waxy lump.

This recipe does contain corn syrup, so if you keep strictly Kosher for Passover, here is a recipe for a corn syrup alternative.

Lately, there has been much written about the evils of high fructose corn syrup. This is not the same as the regular corn syrup you buy for baking. If you are at all concerned and want to know more about the science behind it, this article clears up the confusion.

The canned cream of coconut has liquid at the bottom, so it is best to empty it out into a bowl and mix it up with a spoon before measuring and adding to the batter.
Adding cream of coconutadding coconut
The batter should be chilled for about 15 minutes before shaping macaroons. here is a video demonstrating how to shape them.

The chocolate should be chopped fairly fine. I melt about 3/4 of it in the microwave on medium power. When it is totally melted, stir in the remaining 1/4 of chocolate. This is a quick and dirty tempering method but it works quite well.chopping milk chocolatemelting milk chocolateadding second amount of chocolate
I like to dip the bottom third of the cookies in chocolate.
dippingput on parchment


Click here to print recipe for Triple Coconut Macaroons.

in polka dot bowl


Tears and Sap: Maple Pecan Brown Butter Tarts

9 tarts 2I very rarely cry, so when I found myself sobbing, twice in a span of less than a month, I had to take a step back and examine what exactly was going on here.

The first time I cried, I was halfway through the book  “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.  I noticed a slow tricking of tears sliding down my cheeks. Within an hour, there was full on gushing. No question about it, I was sobbing. I went through a full box of Kleenex. For those not familiar with this book, I don’t want to give too much away in case you plan to read it. Let me just say that it is raw, genuine, alternately sad and funny and honestly all-out poignantly heartbreaking.

The book falls under the category of “YA (young adult) Literature.” At their core, YA books are for and about teenagers and pre-teens, usually between 12 and 18 years old. Full disclosure here, I am not in that age category. I will, however, admit that I am a sucker for this genre of writing. I have read the Harry Potter series (All seven books. TWICE!), the Twilight series (Team Jacob all the way!), and the Hunger Games series. The thing about these books is that good writing is good writing. If the characters are believable and the plot is compelling, its appeal will span a wide age range.

The second incidence of tears occurred this week, as I was binge watching “The Big C”, late at night when sleep eluded me. It was during the third episode of season 4 when again I noticed the quiet dribble of tears making their way, ever so slowly, down my cheeks. The main character, Cathy (brilliantly played by Laura Linney) has terminal melanoma. To ease the burden for her husband and son, she selflessly checks herself into a hospice to die. Her 17 year old son feels totally helpless and wants to do something for his mom. He sneaks into the hospice at 5:00 am and while his mom is deep in a morphine-drip induced slumber, he covers the ceiling above her bed in a huge collage of family pictures. When she wakes up and sees what he has done, it is all I can do to hold it together.

If my children are reading this,  you now know what to do with those thousands of pictures I tortured you by taking as you were growing up.

As I thought about my tears, specifically how they began as a leisurely crawl and progressed to a full on waterfall, I couldn’t help but make the maple syrup analogy. (Even in my deepest sorrow, food is not far from my thoughts. I must have a well developed right cerebral cortex!) When maple trees are tapped for their sap, the initial flow is just a mere dribble. As the weather warms up, the flow increases.

Our friend, Harold, who lives close to our cottage has a sugar bush. Every spring he gives us a 2 litre jug of maple syrup. Last summer I baked some raspberry tarts for him. He asked me if I had ever made maple tarts. He said they are just like butter tarts, but instead of corn syrup to sweeten them, you use maple syrup.

Butter tarts are the quintessential Canadian treat. Sadly, my experience with butter tarts does not come from a tattered recipe handed down from generation to generation. For me, butter tarts will always be associated with the summers I worked as a counsellor at an overnight camp. On our day off, my friends and I would hitch hike from camp into the nearby town of Haliburton Ontario. When I think about some of the rides we accepted, climbing into the back of pick up trucks with strange men, I shudder. But, in our defence, we were young and the part of our brain that deals in common sense was not yet fully formed.

When we arrived in town our first stop was the laundromat. Then, while our clothes were spinning, we shopped at Foodland, for a picnic lunch and treats to keep us fed until our next day off, as camp food was less than stellar. We would park ourselves on the beach by the lake and eat our feast. We always finished with a huge box of butter tarts. They were tooth achingly sweet but we craved that sugar rush. The main source of sugar came from high fructose corn syrup. We had no idea what an evil thing it was in those days.

So when Harold told me that you could substitute maple syrup for the corn syrup, I felt my insides do a little flip! Could it possibly be true? He brought me a recipe and I tucked it away, vowing to try them as soon as the sap began running again in the spring. It just seemed wrong to make maple tarts in the summer. Well, I am thrilled to report to you that, yes, maple tarts are real, and they’re spectacular!4 tarts square 625I fiddled a little bit with Harold’s recipe and added some whole-wheat flour. I like the earthy depth of flavour that it contributes. I also browned the butter in the filling. Browned butter has an intense aroma and nutty flavour that really complements the maple syrup in the filling. These tarts are undeniably sweet, but the flavour profile is layered, with the molasses in the brown sugar contributing an assertive acidic sweetness, while the maple syrup adds a deep, caramelized toasty sweetness. There is a touch of cider vinegar and salt in the filling, to help balance all the sweetness. ingredientsThe dough comes together fairly quickly. No food processor is needed. I used Michael Smith’s dough recipe. His method involves grating frozen butter into the flour and then using your hands to gently knead it.grating butter 

cutting rounds of dough

muffin tin lined with doughI added toasted chopped pecans and raisins to mine, but feel free to leave them out if you like.raisins and pecansraisins and pecans in tart shellsWhen you brown the butter for the filling, stay by the stove and watch closely. It can turn from brown to black in the blink of an eye. Transfer it to a measuring cup when it reaches the perfect shade of brown. This will stop the cooking process instantly. It will smell nutty and toasty. brown butterResist the urge to sample as soon as they come out of the oven. Let them cool completely before you try to remove them from the muffin pan.baked tartstarts on parchment paper

Click here to print recipe for Maple Pecan Brown Butter Tarts.

broken in half 4

Crunchy Green Beans2

625 sqIf the view outside your window is anything like mine, you may be wondering if winter will ever end.icicles 2Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love fall root vegetables as much as or even more than the average joe out there. I mean, they really are the unsung superstars of winter produce. There is no end to the culinary magic that you can perform with carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes. But seriously, I am sick of roasting, mashing, sauteeing and frying those suckers.

I am longing for something fresh and green and crunchy. I am craving baby green peas. Those tiny swollen little pods that, when shucked, give birth to tiny green peas. I miss that satisfying little pop when you bite into them. I am longing for local asparagus. Those grassy sweet spears that tell me spring is here. Sadly, those first green shoots of asparagus have yet to spring forth from the frozen ground and there are no fresh peas ready to pop anywhere near where I am any time soon .

So, it’s green beans to the rescue. Although they are not local , they will stand in as a green crunchy substitute until I can get my hands on the first produce of spring.Green beans in colanderThis green bean recipe is called Crunchy Green Beans2, because the beans get added crunch from two different sources. The first is from toasted hazelnuts. I just love that slightly bitter tanic zing you get when you first crunch a toasted hazelnut between your teeth. Then there is a follow up flavour of slightly browned butter. So complex for such a little nut.

The second crunch source is Panko breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs, if you are not familiar with them are special Japanese breadcrumbs. The biggest difference between panko and regular breadcrumbs is that panko is made from bread without crusts. The crustless bread is coarsely ground into airy, large flakes that give fried foods a light, crunchy coating. The flakes tend to stay crispier longer than standard breadcrumbs because they don’t absorb as much grease.toasting panko and hazelnutsPlease, take the time to salt the water before boiling your green beans. I added about 2 tablepoons of kosher salt to the water. This does not make the beans overly salty, it just seasons them perfectly so they do not taste bland. You can not get the same effect from salting after cooking. Please salt the waterboiling beansAfter boiling for several minutes, give your beans an ice water bath. I just place the colander of drained beans right into a large bowl of ice water. Once they have cooled, just lift the colander up and leave all the ice cubes behind in the bowl.  No need to fish ice cubes out of your green beans.chill in ice bathSome butter or olive oil, or a little of both is added to the toasted crumbs and nuts and the blanched beans get a toss in all that crunchy goodness until they are heated through. tossingHot or at room temperature, these are a little bit salty, a lot crunchy and so satisfying.ready 1

Click here to print recipe for Crunchy Green Beans2

ready 2


Virtuous Green Slaw

625 sq 1In my last post I mentioned a Baby Kale and Brussels Sprouts salad that somehow became tossed aside in favour of Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars. These things happen, it’s understandable, but today we get down to business with that very virtuous slaw.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may already know that there is not much love lost between me and kale (or Brussels sprouts, for that matter). I have made friends with cooked kale in a Kale Chicken Sausage and White Bean Soup and I have come to a détente of sorts with maple syrup roasted Brussels sprouts. Kale continues to reign supreme in the nutrition battlefield and I really want to join the troops and benefit from all its goodness.

My main problem with raw kale is the itch factor. It scratches my throat on the way down. But what if I removed the fibrous ribs of the kale and then sliced the leaves thin, like a slaw? I came across a raw kale and Brussels sprouts salad, created by Sue Riedl in her “month of salads” feature in the  Globe and Mail newspaper, and was inspired to give raw kale a chance.mise en placeI was excited when I found some very tender baby kale at the market. I sliced it thinly. I julienned some Brussels sprouts and one large Honeycrisp apple.shredded sproutsjulienning Brussels Sprouts

julienned applesSome toasted chopped hazelnuts added a wonderful crunch. hazelnutsDressed with a honey lemon mustard vinaigrette, the kale and Brussels sprouts really sing! I gilded the lily with some shavings of Parmesan cheese. Everything is better with cheese.shaving parmI made this for dinner for my husband and oldest (23 year old) son. Neither was enthusiastic when I told them what was in the slaw. My son said, “nope, not gonna eat it.” With some cajoling, they both tried it. My husband declared it “blogworthy” and my son had a second helping. High praise indeed.

The lemon dressing is quite acidic, but it pairs beautifully with the raw kale and Brussels sprouts. The julienned Honey crisp apples add sweetness and the chopped hazelnuts add an amazing textural contrast with their crunch. Finishing the salad off with shaved Parmesan adds a wonderful grace note of umami.

Click here to print recipe for Virtuous Green Slaw.

in bowl on square wood plates 1

Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars

Hot on the heels of posting about Challah Monkey Bread and Brown Sugar Valentines Heart Cookies, I had every intention of sharing with you the recipe for a delicious Baby Kale and Brussels Sprouts salad this week. But somehow, here we are with Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars.with text 2F 625 sqTo be honest, it’s not entirely my fault. I have been noticing quite a few pretzel crusted treats floating around cyberspace recently. Naomi of Baker’s Royale made these to satisfy her pregnancy cravings.  Averie of Averiecooks did a top crust of pretzels on her treats.

I started thinking about what I would love to combine with pretzels and the answer came to me instantly…Turtle Bars. If you have never heard of Turtle Bars, let me enlighten you.  Imagine a chocolate base topped with a pecan caramel layer, reminiscent of Turtles Candies. Adding a crushed pretzel layer is a really inspired idea.
whole pretzelscrushing pretzelsadding melted butter to crustcrust ready for ovenThe thing is, you would imagine that Pretzel Crusted Turtle bars would be pretty damn good. But something kind of astonishing happens when you combine these three layers. Alone, each layer sounds yummy. But the synergy that occurs when these three layers combine is something akin to a culinary explosion. The whole somehow becomes so much more than the sum of its parts.stacked 1
Essentially what we have here is a crunch sandwich, with the bottom layer providing salty crunch from the pretzels, and the top layer providing sweet crunch, from the pecans and caramel. Sandwiched in between these two awesome layers of crunch is a chewy fudgy chocolate layer. it doesn’t get better than this.
cracking eggchocolate layer 1candy thermometer in caramelspreading on pecan caramel layerAfter photographing these, I realized that these bars needed to find a good home, other than mine. I took half to my Yoga class and I do believe I heard a few “oohs” and “aahs” mixed in with the “ommmmm” chanting! The other half disappeared quite quickly at my hairdresser’s.3 bars on tile

Click here to print recipe for Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars.

on twig tray