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

 

Smoked Paprika Roasted Squash

2 platters 1We’re all familiar with the concept that small changes can add up to big differences. The internet abounds with lists that I seem powerless to resist clicking on. You know the ones I mean; 7 Small Changes That Will Make a Big Difference in Your Life, 10 Small Changes Which Make a Big Difference11 Small Lifestyle Changes That Can Make A Big Difference In Your Health & Happiness.

Last week I made a small change of my own, which, by the way, I have yet to see on any of these lists. We eat butternut squash at least once a week in our house. I always prepare it the same way. I cut it into sticks like french fries, drizzle on olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika and  roast it at 400°F for 45 minutes.

As I peeled the squash a crazy thought flitted through my brain. What if I changed the way I usually cut the squash?  Wild, I know! I went rogue and cut thin circles.slicing squashThose lists always advise you to take it slow and not to make too many changes at once, so I kept it consistent and mixed the squash with my usual combo of olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Smoked paprika, if you’ve never used it, is fantastic. I won’t go so far as to say it’s life changing, but it is pretty damn amazing. It makes everything taste better. I put that shit on everything.salt pepper and paprikamixing bowl and baking sheet2 baking sheetsI was actually surprised at how different the squash turned out from when I cut it into fries. The slices baked up more tender on the inside and crisper on the exterior. My squash fries never got golden brown like this. They were either limp and pale after 45 minutes or if I left them in longer, they burned. These circles were consistently golden brown with an outstanding texture.dipping in chipotle mayoI’m not a scientist, but I think the reason for this difference is that the amount of surface area that was exposed to the heat of the oven was greater when the squash was cut into circles, vs. the fry shape, so the squash had better chance to release all its moisture before crisping up.

If you’re serving this to company, scatter a few pomegranate seeds on top and whip up a dip. Mix one small chipotle chile in adobo sauce (seeded and chopped fine) into 1/2 a cup of regular or light mayo. (Don’t use fat free).

Here’s a tip for what to do with the remainder of the chiles in the can. Take a few minutes to seed them all. Puree the seeded chiles in the food processor and then spread the paste out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Put it in the freezer until firm and then break it up into large pieces and store in a ziploc bag in the freezer. It will keep for months. Just break a small piece off whenever you need it. It defrosts very quickly. it’s great on chicken, fish and in rice.platter on white table

Click here to print recipe for Smoked Paprika Roasted Squash.

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Best Apples for Baking

headerOn the weekend we went apple picking. To clarify, we didn’t actually pick the apples off the trees, but we did pick them off the shelf at Farm Boy, so that sort of counts as apple picking, doesn’t it?

I have been wanting to write a post about the best type of apples to use in baking for some time now. With so many varieties of apples to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to know which kind to use for which recipe. Although I don’t find choosing apples nearly as confusing as buying a pair of pantyhose. The breadth of choice there is mind boggling.

The perfect apple for pie, crisp or crumble (or any of those other baked apple desserts, such as grunts, slumps and pan dowdies) must be capable of holding its shape after cooking but still melt in your mouth. Equally important is that elusive perfect balance of tart and sweet.

We bought 7 varieties of apples.apple varieties 5
I took a scientific approach to testing, just like they do over at Cook’s Illustrated, which, by the way, just might be my dream job. I got out my scale and measuring spoons and peeled, cored and cut into wedges, exactly 9.5 ounces of each apple variety. I didn’t want to overwhelm the apples with too many flavours so I kept it basic. Each variety was mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and a tiny pinch of salt. Initially I planned to bake the apples naked.sugar lemon and cinnamon3 varieties4 varietiesWhen I explained my methodology to my husband he said, “You mean you’re just going to bake plain apples, with nothing covering them??” I explained that I didn’t want to have too many other flavours muddying up my experiment. I took one look at his crestfallen face and abandoned my “pure” approach and agreed to cover the apples with crisp topping. It doesn’t take much to make that man happy.crisp toppingInto the oven they went, dressed with their almond-oat crisp topping. baked 1baked 2Here are the findings of our very scientific testing!

Highly Recommended :

Honeycrisp: Undeniably, these are my favourite apple for eating out of hand. They are shatteringly crisp, juicy and slightly sweet.

When we baked them they held their shape, but just barely. They literally melted in the mouth. The apple flavour was complex. My husband declared the crisp baked with honeycrisp apples to be his favourite. I liked it but found the flavour to be a bit too sweet.

Russet Apples: I just learned that these are not actually a single variety of apple. “Russetting” naturally happens to some varieties of apples. The skin becomes discoloured and somewhat leathery. As an eating apple, I find the skin to be tough, but the flesh, while not as juicy as honeycrisp, can best be described as powerfully “apple-y”. Russetts are an under appreciated apple. 

When baked, the russet apples were not as meltingly tender as the honeycrisp, but I really enjoyed their more gently yielding texture. The flavour of the russet was the most complex and balanced of all the apples I tasted. Slightly sweet but with a bit of tartness. Russets were my number one pick.

Recommended:

Granny Smith: Eaten out of hand, Granny Smiths are crunchy and quite tart, with a bright tangy apple flavour.

Once baked, they held their shape but the texture was quite soft. The flavour of these was more tart, not as “apple-y” as our 2 winners, but still, I wouldn’t object if someone served me a pie made with Granny Smiths.

Don’t Bother:

Pink Lady: Secretly I was hoping this varietal would be the winner. I mean, Pink Lady is an awesome name for an apple. As the name suggest, these have a lovely pink blush which turns into a deeper red with sun exposure. They are delicious to eat out of hand. They have great crunch and start off tasting slightly tart but end with a sweet finish. These apples have a surprisingly concentrated burst of flavour. 

My Pink Lady crush was over once we baked these. They were the firmest of the bunch, almost to the point of chewy. The apples barely gave off any juice, making for a dry apple crisp, never a good thing. The flavour was more sweet than tart and seemed to have lost it’s apple-y nuances once baked.

Empire: This varietal is a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious apples. Eaten out of hand, this varietal shows off the best of both its parents- crunch from the Red Delicious and tartness from the Macintosh.

Once baked, the Empire apple failed miserably. They became quite mushy, almost to the point of apple sauce. The heat of the oven caused the sugar level to soar and any signs of tartness were gone.

Lobo: Lobos are an Eastern Ontario apples. I had never heard of them until I net my husband and moved to Ottawa. These are the apples of his childhood. An offspring of Macintosh, early Lobos are crisp and tart, but they sweeten considerably as they are stored.

When my husband tasted the baked crisp, he immediately identified it as the one made with Lobo apples. The texture was quite soft, almost mushy. The flavour was pleasant but far too sweet.

Gala: A New Zealand creation, Gala apples are known for their mild sweet flavor and crunch. They are thin skinned and the flesh has a grainy texture.

Once baked, gala apples go quite mushy. They lose their distinct apple taste and the grainy texture is quite unpleasant.tasting 1Tasting all these crisps was hard work, but we were happy to do it for you. The dynamic combo of Russett and Honeycrisp apples are about to become my go to pair for all baked apple desserts.

Click here for my favourite Apple Crisp recipe.

lobo baked