Friday, December 25, 2009

Almond, Ginger and Chocolate Buche de Noel

First of all, Merry Christmas to all you Chocolate Shavings loyal readers! Your comments have really made this blog that much more fun to write and always gives me that extra boost of energy to sit down and share a recipe I loved, even when my day seemed like it should have been 30 hours long.

As much as I love creating new traditions for the holidays (like my Panettone bread pudding and homemade Gingerbread ornaments) I also love upholding old traditions. We serve yule logs, every single Christmas at home, and since I wasn't home this year, I decided to make an old dessert in a new home.. so here it is! Buche de Noel is not nearly as daunting to make as it might seem, especially when you've made it once before. The most difficult part is wrapping yourself around the different steps of the dessert.

As its name so blatantly suggests, yule logs are the sweet, edible version of the large wooden logs used to warm cold wintery houses during Christmastime. And as nature intended it, logs are not perfectly symmetrical, have nooks and crannies, uneven edges and aren't perfectly straight. This should all encourage those of us who haven't been baking yule logs since they could hold their first spoon. This dessert is not meant to look perfect, but naturally rustic!

Almond, Ginger and Chocolate Buche de Noel

For the genoise:
4 eggs
120 grams of sugar
60 grams of flour
60 grams of powdered almonds
A pinch of salt
For the filling:
1/2 container of mascarpone
2 tablespoons of minced crystallized ginger
1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar
For the exterior:
1/2 container of mascarpone
2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 cup of heavy cream
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup of toasted slithered almonds

For the genoise:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Separate the yolks from the whites. In a bowl, mix the yolks and sugar until the mixture whitens. Add the flour and the sifted powdered almonds gradually. In a separate bowl, add the pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture until the mixture is homogeneous and smooth.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the batter to form a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Even out the batter using a spatula. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cake is done when you can gently press the cake with your thumb and the imprint disappears after a couple seconds.
Mix the 1/2 container of mascarpone and confectioner's sugar in a bowl while the cake is baking. Fold in the crystallized ginger.

Lay a damp dish towel onto a flat surface and cover with a large piece of parchment paper. Once the cake is done, immediately invert it onto the parchment paper. Gently start rolling the cake (as you would sushi) until you form a log. This must be done while the cake is still warm in order for it not to crack. Leave the rolled cake to cool down.
Melt the chocolate and leave to cool. Beat the remaining mascarpone with the cream, pinch of salt and confectioner's sugar until smooth. Fold in the chocolate when it is cool enough so it does not melt the mascarpone.
To assemble:
Unroll the cake and gently spread the ginger/mascarpone mixture on one side. Make sure the layer is even and lave a small border. Gently roll the cake up again. An additional, optional step is to wrap the entire cake in plastic wrap, twist it at the ends, and let sit in the fridge for 20 minutes to compress the layers together. Cover the cake with the chocolate/mascarpone mixture. Top with toasted almonds and decorate as you please. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

DIY Christmas Ornaments

Here is the recipe I used to make these Christmas ornaments. You can find the rest of my post in the Kitchn section of Apartment Therapy's website. It's one of my favorite places to browse for new design and kitchen ideas and I'm honored to be a part of this year's holiday posts.

Adapted from Nick Malgieri
Makes about 24 large cookies, depending on the size cutter used

5 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses
2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

In a large bowl, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Stir well to mix.

Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Scrape down bowl and beater.

Lower speed and beat in about half the flour mixture. Beat in all the molasses then scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, and beat after each addition until it has all been absorbed.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Scrape half the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it to about a 1/2-inch thickness. Wrap the dough securely and repeat with the remaining dough. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 3 days.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Unwrap one of the pieces of dough and cut it in half. Re-wrap one of the halves and return it to the refrigerator.

On a floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Use a floured cookie cutter to cut the cookies. As they are cut, place the cut cookies on the prepared pans with about 1 inch between them on all sides. Repeat with remaining dough. Save, press together, and re-roll scraps (they don't need to be chilled before re-rolling).

Bake the cookies until they become dull and dry looking and feel slightly firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 12 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake the cookies or they will be very dry. Slide papers from pans onto racks to cool.

Store the cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Buttercream

This post will be a short one because I feel like a great batch of cupcakes really does speak for itself. I used Martha Stewarts' One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake recipe, which works wonders to make the cupcakes moist (there is really nothing worse than a dry cupcake!) as well as my fail-safe chocolate buttercream to frost them with. The only tip I have for the batter recipe is to make sure you have a bowl with a beak to pour the batter into the cupcake liners because the batter is very, very liquidy and makes a huge mess otherwise.. and I speak from experience!

I have a very rustic approach when it comes to cupcakes - I like the frosting to not look perfect, and quite enjoy the uneven look of the buttercream as it finds itself a home atop of the fluffy cakey batter. I just spoon a good amount of buttercream on each cupcake and let it find its way.

I used milk chocolate in my buttercream this time, but this recipe works fabulously with bittersweet chocolate, or a heaping spoonful of caramel. If you're not a chocolate lover shy away from this recipe because these are intensely chocolately in the fabulously bad-for-you kind of way! But cupcakes come in small packages so it's all good right? Although I guess that's dependent on how many you have!

Milk Chocolate Buttercream

Frosts 15 cupcakes

1 stick of butter
1 3/4 cups of confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons of milk chocolate, melted and cooled

Cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add the confectioners' sugar little by little. Mix for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the cooled chocolate and mix until the chocolate is entirely incorporated. Ice the cupcakes as you please. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Coconut-Chocolate Bars

Every once in a while, I get a little obsessed with a flavor combination. These past couple weeks, it's been chocolate and coconut. There's just something about dark, velvety chocolate and crunchy toasted coconut. isn't there? First, let me talk about toasting. Toasting coconut really, really makes a difference. Trust me, I'm a bit of a lazy cooks at times, but I never skip this step because of how much more flavorful the end result is. The same goes for slithered almonds- they taste that much better when slightly golden and toasted. In fact, just the smell of them while they're toasting in the pan reminds you what flavor you're actually cooking with.

These bars turned out to be delicious! They're not too sweet, and the combination of chocolate ganache, toasted coconut and chocolate base was really a winner. I'm planning out my Christmas baking packages, and this will be a great addition. Cut in smaller bit-size pieces they should be a great addition to my ever-growing list of must-bakes for the Holidays.

We bought our Christmas tree this weekend, and it has to be the nicest tree I've had with Oliver. It's plump yet elegant, and is just waiting to be dressed. I have a batch if gingerbread batter in the fridge waiting to be transformed into tree ornaments - it's hard not to be in the Christmas spirit now!

Coconut-Chocolate Bars
Adapted from BBC Good Food

100 grams (1 stick) of softened butter
100 grams (1/2 cup) of granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
140 grams (1 cup) of self-rising flour
1 tsp of baking powder
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of milk

1/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips
A good splash of heavy cream

100 g of dessicated coconut

Preheat your oven to 350F. Butter and line and 20cm square tin.
Cream the softened butter and sugar with a hand mixer until pale and creamy (about 2 minutes). Add the eggs and beat until just combined.
Sieve in the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Beat in the milk. Place the batter in the tin making sure it's evenly distributed in the pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed.
Let the cake cool for a few minutes before removing from the tin.

While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate ganache. Using a double boiler, gently melt chocolate. Once melted, transfer chocolate to a small bowl and add a good splash of heavy cream. Whisk until the cream is fully incorporated.

Place a pan on medium heat. Add the coconut to the pan and stir until the coconut turn lightly golden. Remove from the heat. Stay close to the pan when toasted the coconut because it can burn easily. Remove from the heat as soon as the coconut is golden as it will continue to cook if left in the warm pan.

Cut the cake into small squares. Using a spoon, add a dollop of chocolate to the top of each square and spread to create an even layer. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grand Marnier Panettone Bread Pudding with Dark and Milk Chocolates

Making panettone bread pudding has become a sort of holiday tradition for me. Living far away from family I have, little by little, recreated the feeling of home far away from home. I've started my own traditions, like this bread pudding. I make it every year now, and just the smell of the panettone coming out of its package signifies that that time of year has arrived. I tweak the recipe a little every year: this year, it's more rustic, meant for every one to dig in. There is dark and milk chocolate, and a healthy dose of Grand Marnier.

Moving away from home has been a real test in growing up. I've been away for a little over 6 years now, most of my family living minutes from each other in Paris. So, new traditions are born, and, with me, they usually tend to surround Oliver, food and good friends.

Grand Marnier Panettone Bread Pudding with Dark and Milk Chocolates

Serves 4
2 eggs
1 cup of whole milk
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
3 teaspoons of Grand Marnier
1/2 large panettone loaf with candied fruit and raisins
1 tablespoon of bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon of milk chocolate chips
Butter, to butter the ramekins

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar and Grand Marnier. Beat until well mixed. Using your hands, tear the pannetone into large bite size pieces. Butter a large oven-proof baking dish and scatter the panettone pieces at the bottom. Scatter the chocolate on top of the panettone. Pour the egg mixture over the panettone, and lightly push down with the back of a spoon until the panettone is covered with egg mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until the egg mixture is just set. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon - or Red Wine Stewed Beef

Boeuf bourguignon is one of the main dishes of France's culinary heritage - one of those dishes that has been made by generations and generations each with its own tweaks. Stewed meat was always a classic in my family's Parisian kitchen, and making this in my kitchen sends me back to those nice family dinners.

The bottom line is that boeuf bourguignon is extremely cheap to make, the only difficult part being the wait for it to be done while the sweet smell of simmering wine and tender beef takes over your kitchen! Stewing meat is one of the cheapest cuts of meat there is - the idea being that the labor is on you to cook it slowly! As any good stew starts off, it's about searing the meat (which takes a few minutes), and then basically mixing the beef with aromatics and liquid (good red wine and stock).

In Julie and Julia, Julie Powell makes boeuf bourgignon sound rather dramatic. She forgets it in the oven while she falls asleep and the result is a big, big burnt mess. When Oliver and I were heading home from the market with our stewed meat, vegetables, and wine we were laughing about the scene and how it was made out to be so much more tedious than it actually was. I don't know if Julia Child got offended by our gentle mockery or if we were just unlucky, but after an hour of cooking time, when Oliver was taking our Creuset pot out to check on the meat, our oven rack tilted and half of our stewing liquid flooded the oven. That set us back a good half hour, the oven was a boozy mess but thankfully we had more Chianti wine and the meal turned out great anyway.

I used Julia Child's recipe, with a few tweaks, served the meet over whole wheat buttery herbed parpadelle and it was the perfect Sunday night meal.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

These types of soups always make me smile. The color of the squash is just amazing - making this soup the perfect way to celebrate Fall. My mom is in Montreal for a few days and wanted me to show her how to make an easy squash soup. This was the perfect time to do just that. Standing in the kitchen with a warm cup of green tea, I talked her through the recipe, she took a few notes, and I'm confident she will now try to make this at home!

We served the soup with crusty garlic-rubbed walnut bread, and it was delicious. The markets are full of multi-colored squashes at this time of year, and I can't help myself but buy one (or 2) every time I see some. This is my type of food: simple, rustic, flavorful and really quite beautiful. What are your favorite Fall treats this year?

Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 8

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 squash, seeded and cut in quarters
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 1/2inch slice of pancetta, cubed
1/2 white onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 teaspoon of finely chopped thyme
2 cups of chicken stock
10 sage leaves
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and add the chopped sweet potato and quartered squash. Generously drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with brown sugar. Using your hands, make sure each piece has a little oil, seasoning and sugar. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the squash and sweet potato are just soft. All pieces may not be done at exactly the same time. Once cool enough to handle, use a spoon and scoop out the flesh of the squash. Reserve the squash and sweet potato.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, add the diced pancetta. Cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add a little olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped thyme. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add the squash and sweet potato pieces. Add the chicken stock. Add cold water until the squash and sweet potato pieces are just covered with liquid. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using an immersion blender, carefully puree the soup. You might need to add a little water if the soup is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, and a good drizzle of olive oil to fry the sage leaves. Place the leaves in the oil, and cook until the leaves are just crispy. Remove from the heat, place on paper towels to soak up excess fat, and serve atop the soup, with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt or ricotta. Enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Caramel-Coated Apples

When I went apple-picking last week, I bought a wonderful, vibrantly red candy apple. I knew, right then and there, that I would have to use some of my freshly picked apples to make my own. I ended up deciding to make caramel apples... and what a disaster it was. One of my friends was celebrating his birthday and my plan was to bring him a few caramel apples as a gift. I had never really made caramel apples, but how hard could it be? Well, as it turns out, it's not always that easy! I used a pretty standard recipe at first but for some reason, the caramel would just not stick to the apples. The lovely amber-colored deliciousness dripped down the side of the apples, leaving a pool of soft caramel at their base.

This morning, after a little research, I picked myself up and tried to tackle the monster again. What a difference experience it was this time around! The temperature of the caramel is definitely key to successful caramel-coated apples. You want the coating to be soft enough to be able to coat the apples, but not so soft that it drips and doesn't adhere to the fruit. I added a little molasses to the caramel this time around, which added great richness to the color and the caramel flavor. My tip is to dip the apple in the caramel while it's still hot enough, coat the apples, and place in the fridge immediately to harden for 15 minutes.

The moral of the story might be not to make things for the first time when the plan is to give them away... !

Caramel-Coated Apples

Makes about 10 caramel apples

10 apples (I used Spartan)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 lightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of light corn syrup
2 teaspoons of molasses
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 cup of heavy cream

Wash the apples and thoroughly dry them. If they are still wet, the caramel will not stick to the skin. Remove the stems, and insert a wooden stick at the top of each apple, about half-way through. The apples should securely cling to the stick.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease.

In a saucepan on medium heat, add the sugars, butter, corn syrup, molasses, salt and half of the cream. Swirl the pan to make sure all the ingredients come together. Once they have, add the remaining cream. Cook on medium heat for 10-12 minutes or until the temperature of the mixture reaches 240F.

Remove the caramel from the heat and wait for the liquid to slightly cool (2 minutes). Using a swirling motion and carefully tilting the pan, coat the apples with caramel, leaving an untouched apple circle where the wooden stick is inserted. Let the excess caramel drip off, and place the apples on the parchment paper. Immediately place the apples in the fridge to harden. You may have to do this in batches so that the first coated apples don't stay at room temperature for too long: the quicker they get in the fridge, the better! If the caramel starts to harden and is not thin enough to coat the apples, simply place the saucepan on the heat for a couple minutes before coating more apples.

Leave the apples in the fridge for 15 minutes to harden. Once they have hardened, leave at room temperature. Package as you please. Enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chocolate Pear Cakes

When you spend most of your time cooking, you end up being more and more of a perfectionist. The more you learn about cooking technique, the more you learn from watching great chefs put together a meal, and the more you test out recipe combinations, the more difficult you become on yourself. At least, that's the case for me. It's a great challenge on yourself really, and pushes you to try new things, and learn by practice makes perfect. I come up with a lot, a lot of recipes on a weekly basis - a lot of which don't make it on this blog. I've caught myself quite a few times being really disappointed when a dish I've been planning in my head just doesn't work out, or a wonderful dish proves impossible to photograph properly. "Don't be so hard on yourself" Oliver would say. But, really, it's being so hard on myself that keeps me wanting to come up with new flavour combinations that really work, or practice a cooking technique until I feel that spark - that spark that means that I got what it was all about.

When I was at the French Culinary Institute, I burnt my hand pretty severely. We were learning how to make crème caramel, and when pouring the boiling caramel in little ramekins, my hand slipped and fell into the scorching sugar. It was one of those pains that was so beyond the normal level of pain that I couldn't even cry. I just stood there in shock - after having removed the caramel from my flesh - and couldn't feel my fingers. Worst is, I don't even like creme caramel. I like caramel, but crème caramel is just not my thing. This would have made for an amazingly dramatic episode of Top Chef, or a screaming frenzy on Hell's kitchen. The point is, I can almost feel the pain in my hand if I think of boiling caramel for too long. For a couple months after this, I didn't want anything to do with pots full of sugar and water - until, I got my act together and started cooking with caramel again. I'm since painfully aware of how careful I should be when handling it but forced myself to keep on working with the sugary goodness... if only to get over my fear of it. In an odd way, being hard on myself has made me, I think, a much better cook.

All to say, that I've been toying with the idea of a chocolate cake using a whole pear. I tried a couple recipes inspired by cookbooks I had, but the texture of the cakes weren't what I was looking for. After some recipe testing, the image of the pear cake in my head was bubbling in the oven and before I knew it, it was waiting to be eaten. It's sweet, but not too sweet, and really about the pear flavor. When the pear cooks it releases a lot of its juices, which meddle with the chocolate batter and make the whole cake taste like sweet pears. I hope you give it a try - and if you do, let me know what you think!

Chocolate Pear Cakes
Serves 2

1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of cake flour
1 good pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of milk
2 pears

Preheat your oven to 350F. Add the softened butter and sugar to a medium-size mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and beat until just incorporated. Using a small whisk, whisk in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter batter in small batches, whisking the mixture until homogeneous. Whisk in the milk.

Peel the pears making sure to leave the steam intact. Using a small knife or melon baller, carefully scoop out the core of the pear leaving the pear intact. Ladle the batter evenly into 2 individual ramekins. Form a well in the middle of the batter with the back of a spoon and place the pear inside the well. Gently press down so that the batter settles around the pear.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the top of the batter is set. The inside of the batter will be gooey so the toothpick test will not be a good indication here. Let the cakes cool and serve with chocolate ganache.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Apple Sauce

This recipe concludes my couple weeks of apple recipes. It was pretty exhilarating to look at my woven basket of apples everyday, with a dozen possibilities of what do with them, and then get excitedly into the kitchen to test different recipes. You'd think I'd be all appled-out, but I've planned to go apple picking again this weekend. I've got to make the most out of Fall while it's still here.

Apple sauce really is the perfect recipe to make when you have more apples than you can chew.. literally. It's easy to make, flavorful, and you'll find yourself enjoying it in many different ways. I used them to make caramel and apple cupcakes (by using the apple sauce in the batter), as a simple compote dessert, or as a great addition to a small bowl of thick Greek yogurt. I only wish I had made more... hence the continued apple-picking!

Apple Sauce

10 apples (I used a mix of McIntosh and Cortland)
3/4 cups of water
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
A pinch of kosher salt
3 tablespoons of loosely packed brown sugar

Peel and core the apples. Cut them into bite-size chunks. In a stock pot, on medium low heat, add the apples, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and lemon juice. Cook on low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the apples are soft. If you like your apple sauce chunky, remove from the heat when the apple chunks are soft but still hold their shape. If you don't, cook for a few minutes longer, or until the chunks completely break down. Taste and adjust seasoning. I added a couple extra drops of lemon juice, and a little more cinnamon.

Cool down, and enjoy! You can then keep the apple sauce in the fridge for several days.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Apple and Cinnamon Palmiers

Palmiers, I love palmiers. They seem like they're hard to put together, but honestly, these were ready in a matter of minutes. The only slightly tricky part is to fold the puff pastry tightly, but really.. you could almost do it with your eyes closed.

This is the second to last apple recipe for this fall.. my bag of apples seems a little morose now... there are only 3 or 4 left and I can't wait to go and pick more.

Apple and Cinnamon Palmiers

2 sheets of square puff pastry
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of kosher
1 apple

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

Mix the sugar, salt and cinnamon. Spread 1/2 cup of sugar mixture onto your working area. Place one sheet of puff pastry on top of the sugar. Add another 1/4 cup of the mixture on top and gently press down with the palm of your hand. Using a small brush, brush off excess sugar.

Peel and grate the apple. Tightly press onto a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. Sprinkle half of the grated apple onto the puff pastry. Lightly press them down with the palm of your hand. Fold 2 sides of the square puff pastry into the middle of the puff pastry surface. Fold the sides towards the middle again to create double-layered folds. Then, fold one of the sides onto the other (as if you were closing a book). Reserve and do the same with the second puff pastry sheet.

Slice the puff pastry into 3/8 inch slices and place cut side up on a parchment-line baking sheet. Bake for 6 minutes, turn the palmiers over, and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until perfectly golden. Let cool on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Thanksgiving Side Dish Ideas

I'm taking a little break from my apple frenzy to bring you a few side dish ideas for Thanksgiving. Us Canadians (let's just say I'm Canadian for the sake of this conversation) will be celebrating Thanksgiving this coming Monday. I've been working on holiday side dishes since the early days of September (ah, the joys of being a food writer!) so safe to say that I've been feeling the holiday spirit for a little while now.

Here's a small selection of the results - some traditional, some a little less so, so take your pick! What's your favorite holiday dish?

Beet and Potato Puree
Serves 4

10 small yukon gold potatoes
10 cooked and drained canned beets
2 tablespoons of soft butter
¼ cup of heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Boil the potatoes until soft, drain and mash.
Add the roughly chopped beets to a pan with 2 tablespoons of water and cook until the beets are soft (about 5-6 minutes). Remove from the heat and mash using the back of a spoon. Mix the beets and potatoes until the mixture is homogeneous. Transfer the mixture to a pot on medium low heat. Add the softened butter, heavy cream and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Once the puree is velvety and warm, remove from the heat and serve.

Lightened Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves 4
3 large sweet potatoes
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
2 tablespoon of softened butter
¼ cup and 1 tablespoon of whole milk
¼ cup and 1 tablespoon of packed brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Using a fork, prick the skin of the sweet potatoes, set on a baking sheet and bake for 45 min-1 hour or until soft. Remove from the oven, and peel once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle. Reduce the heat to 350 F.

Place the sweet potato flesh in a bowl, and mash with the back of a spoon. Stir in the softened butter, the sugar and the milk. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Place the sweet potato mixture in individual ramekins or a casserole dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top of the mixture is golden.

Green Bean Salad with Roasted Almonds and Shallot Dressing
Serves 4

1 pound of green beans
¼ cup of slithered almonds
2 shallots, finely sliced
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle to cook the shallots
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cook the green beans in a big pot of salted boiling water. The water should be as salty as sea water. Remove from the heat as soon as the beans are tender. Place them immediately in a big bowl of salted ice cold water with ice cubes to ensure that the cooking process stops and that the beans maintain their vibrant green color. Once the beans are completely cold, pat them dry using a kitchen towel.
Place a pan on medium heat, and add the slithered almonds. Stir frequently until the almonds are golden brown. Remove from the heat and place in a small bowl to cool down.
Place a pan on medium low heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Place the finely sliced shallots in the pan and cook, stirring often, until the shallots are soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and reserve.
In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and lemon juice and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the shallots and stir. Spoon the vinaigrette over the green beans, and sprinkle with the roasted almonds.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Apple, Nuts and Gruyere Salad

I've always been a big fan of apples in salads. Add a couple cubes of Gruyere, a few nuts and some good greens and you've got yourself a wonderful filling dish. For this salad, I used this new nut mix from Back to Nature. If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you'll know that I'm a firm believer in making sure your food is as natural as can be (read chemical-free, and where you can pronounce every word on a product's ingredient list). These nut mixes fit the bill for me: they're 100% natural and made this salad easy to make and ready to eat in minutes. I used a mix of almonds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, pecans and dried apricots.

I still have about 15 apples to use up... any ideas on other dishes to make? I still have a few surprises to post for the start of my 2nd apple week, so stay tuned!

Apple, Nuts and Gruyere Salad
Serves 2

1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup of bite-size cubed Gruyere
2 big handful of mixed greens
2 tablespoons of mixed nuts

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
A slash of apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Add the olive oil to a small bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad just before serving so the lettuce doesn't wilt. Enjoy!

Tip: Don't cut the apples too long before you're ready to serve the salad or they will start to change color. You can toss all the other ingredients for the salad in your serving bowl and make the vinaigrette in a separate bowl. Just before serving, cut the apples and add them to the salad, then add the dressing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Apple and Potato Fritters with Sour Cream and Herb Dipping Sauce

My grandfather made the most amazing potato galettes. Unfortunately his recipe was never really written down and my mother and grandma both have only a vague idea of how he made them. I enjoy playing around with potato fritter recipes and like to think that he lends his watchful eye when I get in the kitchen and try them out.

If you've been reading my posts this week you'll know that I have A LOT of apples to use! I grated a couple apples into these potato galettes and it really was delicious. The apple adds a nice and subtle sweetness to the starchy potatoes, and the crispy fritters dipped into a cold herby dip makes for the perfect snack.

Apple and Potato Fritters with Sour Cream and Herb Dipping Sauce

Makes about 15 small fritters

150 grams of grated potatoes
1 large macintosh apple, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons of Parmesan
2 tablespoons of rice or cake flour
1 egg yolk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil

Grate the potatoes and apple into a small bowl. Place the mix into a kitchen towel and drain out the water. Transfer back to the bowl and fold in the flour, Parmesan and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the egg yolk and gently mix so all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Add a good drizzle of vegetable oil to a non-stick pan or skillet. Once the oil is hot, drop a heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture and flatten to form a disc with the back of a spoon. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the side in contact with the skillet is nice and golden brown. Flip the fritters and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place on paper towels to soak up excess oil.

1/2 cup of sour cream
1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk the sour cream and parsley in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and serve alongside the fritters.

Apple Crisp

It's apple week in the Chocolate Shavings kitchen! This is the second apple dessert I've got my hands on since going apple picking this weekend. I still have a basket-full of apples to get through, so keep on sending me your favorite apple recipes! I had never made apple crisp before. In France, I was used to eating crumbles (fruit topped with a mixture of sugar and butter crumbles) but we don't really use oats as a topping. I got these amazing organic oats the other day though, so I decided this French girl should North-Americanize a little!

I used a Martha Stewart recipe for this dessert around and it worked wonderfully. Give it a try, and keep on eating those tasty seasonal apples!

Also, you can follow me on twitter @Chocshavings.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apple Pudding

It's apple week in the Chocolate Shavings kitchen! For some odd reason, I had never really been apple picking. I have a distant memory of my parents taking me to this farm once outside of Paris and picking a couple apples and learning how to make bread, but it wasn't exactly the same adventure.
It was raining pretty heavily this weekend but we decided that apples would be picked, rain or shine. When we got to the farm, I was in awe. There's just something about picking the apple straight from the tree. It might seem like an obvious statement, but it's easy to disconnect yourself from where your food comes from, even at the farmer's market. Seeing this plump tree full of ruby red goodness made me giggle. Tugging at each apple to see if it was ready to leave its home, and tasting the different types of apples, their varying sweetness and tartness. It was a moment of pure bliss.

For my first recipe of apple week, I made apple pudding. I adapted the recipe from Delicious magazine, with a couple tweaks. I have about 60 apples calling my name in a big basket.. so be prepared for a lot more apple-themed recipes in the days to come!

Apple Pudding
Serves 4

2 big apples (I used Cortland), peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
2 1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 cup of self-rising flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
50 grams of room temperature butter
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 350F.
In a small bowl, combine the apple pieces, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon and half of the brown sugar. Set aside.

In a another bowl, using an electrical mixer, beat the butter and the rest of the sugar (about 2 minutes). Add the the egg and vanilla extract until just combined. Slowly add in the flour until just combined. Divide the apple mixture into 4 individual ramekins and add a spoonful of the flour mixture ontop. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Citrus Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Icing

There's not a lot that a good cupcake can't cure. Let me tell you, cupcakes have often been my pick-me-up when the day hasn't been so sweet. Maybe it's a good thing that I no longer live close to NYC's Buttercup Bake shop! I am in cupcake testing madness (for a little project of mine that I'm thinking of getting together) and here is where I'm at. Citrus Cupcakes! Give them a try, and let me know what you think.

Citrus Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Icing
Makes 6 cupcakes
3/4 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 stick of room temperature butter
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon of packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon curd
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/4 cup of sour cream
3 tablespoons of lemon curd

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, mix the flour, salt, lemon zest and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, add the sugar and butter. Using a mixer, beat the sugar and butter until the mixture is homogeneous (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one by one, beating until just incorporated. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract and lemon curd and beat until just incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture. Once the mixture is just homogeneous, scoop one ice cream scoop of batter into a cupcake-lined muffin time. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Leave to cool on a cooling rack while you make the icing.

Using a small whisk, whisk the lemon curd into the sour cream making sure to remove any lumps. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, ice them. Enjoy!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Green Onion, Pancetta and Parmesan Rolls

So... I had promised myself I wouldn't do it and then I caved! The problem with me is that I've never really been a woman of measure and I tend to be pretty obsessed with things that I take a liking to. For those reasons, I had promised I wouldn't hop on the twitter train. After much restraint, I did, and I kind of love it. My only problem is that I sometimes have problems divulging and get twitter stage fright. Do people really care that I had the most flaky caramelized onion and roasted tomato tart last week? that I found a new bread that I can't live without? that my food magazine obsession is becoming a real design problem in my apartment? or that I've never been apple picking and that this year will be the year for homemade apple sauces/pies/tarts/compotes/jellies?

If you're on twitter, follow me here, I would love to keep up with all the food-lovers out there, and that seems like the perfect channel to do so!

And in the meantime, here is my new recipe for savory bread rolls/muffins. The combo of pancetta, green onions and cheese was perfect for the cooler fall weather coming our way. Give them a try, and let me know what you think!

Green Onion, Pancetta and Parmesan Rolls
Makes about 14 rolls

1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 egg
3/4 cups of milk
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1 tbl of olive oil and extra to drizzle
4 green onions, finely sliced
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces of pancetta, diced

Preheat your oven 400F.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, add the milk, cream, olive oil and vegetable oil. Beat in the egg. Once the mixture is homogenous, fold in the flour mixture until completely incorporated. Fold in the cheese, green onions and pancetta.

Place cupcake liners in a muffin pan. Add one ice cream scoop of batter into each and bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Lightly drizzle the muffins with olive oil and place your oven on broil. Bake them for 2-3 minutes or until the rolls are just golden brown.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fleur de Sel Chocolate Bark with Hazelnuts and Almonds

I've been meaning to write about chocolate bark for a little while now. It's really a fun, and easy dessert to make and you can switch it up with so many different things. I especially like using fleur de sel because it really brings out the flavor of the chocolate. I was reading one of Ina Garten's cookbooks the other day and I couldn't agree more with her view on how to use different flavors when coming up with recipes. Ina chosses what flavor to add to roast chicken by figuring out what ingredients really boosts the chicken flavor. I think it's the same with the use of salt in certain sweet recipes. It's not so much that you taste a lovely contrast between salty and sweet flavors (although you do) but mostly that the salt helps brings out the complex flavor of good dark chocolate and make it taste that much more chocolatey and intense.

This is the kind of recipe where the type of chocolate you use really makes all the difference. There are so few ingredients, that a mediocre chocolate can render the dessert rather bland whereas a good chocolate will make you go for seconds.. and thirds.

Fleur de Sel Chocolate Bark with Hazelnuts and Almonds
7 ½ oz bittersweet chocolate
4 ½ oz semisweet chocolate
¼ cup of roasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons of slivered almonds
¼ teaspoon of fleur de sel, and a small pinch for sprinkling
Chop the chocolates into small pieces and place to melt in a double boiler. Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and fold in the ¼ teaspoon of fleur de sel.
Coarsely chop the roasted hazelnuts and fold half of them into the chocolate mixture. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently pour the chocolate mixture onto the paper to form ¼ inch thick rectangle. Top the chocolate with the rest of the hazelnuts and the almonds. Add a small pinch of fleur de sel over the surface of the chocolate.
Let the chocolate harden on the kitchen counter (about 2 hours). Once the chocolate has completely hardened, place it on a chopping board using the parchment paper, and cut into small triangles.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

White Chocolate Mousse with Pomegranate Seeds and Gingersnap Cookies

Cooking with pomegranate can be a little bit of a challenge to those who don't like to get messy in the kitchen. Personally, that's never been an issue of mine. The messier things are, the better the result! These red jewels can really be a tad messy to free, but once out they are sweet, crunchy and absolutely delicious. And don't they add something special to anything they touch?

This is a really, really simple dessert to put together but looks great when it comes out to the table. I like these kind of desserts that you can whip up really fast, and serve for a casual family dinner as well as a fancier affair.

White Chocolate Mousse with Pomegranate Seeds and Gingersnap Cookies

Serves 4

2 cups of whipping cream
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
4 ounces of white chocolate
2 egg whites
1 pomegranate, seeded
6 ginger snaps cookies

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Once melted, leave to cool down in a bowl.
Take a cold stainless steal bowl and pour in the cold whipping cream (placed for 30 minutes in the fridge). Using a hand mixer, whip the cream for 2-3 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and whip until the cream has the consistency of light whipped cream. Place in the fridge.

Beat the egg whites (with a pinch of salt) to firm peaks. Gently fold the egg whites with the cream and add the cooled white chocolate. Take your glass serving bowls to start building the dessert. Add a dozen pomegranate seeds at the bottom of each bowl, top with few ginger snaps pieces and top with a generous ladle of the whipped cream mixture. Add another layer of pomegranate seeds and ginger snaps to decorate.
Tip: If preparing in advance, leave the whipped cream mixture in separate bowl. Do not put the ginger snaps in the fridge or they will become soggy. Build the desserts just before serving. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chocolate-Dipped Ginger Poached Pears

I saw Julie & Julia a couple nights ago and it left me with a myriad of reflections about the food world. First of all, let me be honest: I only heard about Julia Child a handful of years ago. Growing up in Paris, as you can imagine, Julia Child was not a renowned name and her legacy had never made it to my though curious Parisian ears. A couple years after I moved to Montreal, Oliver came back from one of his second-hand book hunts with a grin and a copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". It had cost him 10 dollars, was in mint condition and just asking to be used. I flipped through the pages of this brick of a book (a masterpiece alright!) and recognized all the recipes that make up classic French cuisine. Julia Child's explanations of how to make each dish was the most entertaining and valuable part, and it did make me think that no matter your lack of knowledge on the matter, you could probably whip up a boeuf bourgignon or the perfect onion soup on any given day.

Then, I did what any normal product of the 21 st century would do: I googled. I googled Julia Child's photo, extracts of her cooking show and read up on her biography. I already felt like I knew who she was. Better still was the particular ring of her tone of voice, and the awkward yet charming way she had of carrying herself while showing you how to truss a chicken or make the perfect omelet. I was sold. Since that moment, I've heard her name over and over and over again and can only give her my blessing for what she was able to do for Americans. I don't believe these recipes were anything of a creative breakthrough - these are, after all not Julia Child's recipes, but rather the classic recipes found in most old school restaurants in France - but Julia Child made it possible for the housewife of her time, wherever she might be, to bring a taste of France to her family. Julia Child was, in effect, the one who made it possible for home cooks to buy raw ingredients and turn them into a real show piece at the dinner table.

Seeing Julie & Julia made me think about the essential role of transmission in the food world. Our grandmother's recipe has special importance to us because it was passed down from generation to generation and making it in our kitchen makes that tradition live on. Julia transformed these French recipes into understandable terms and allowed that transmission to occur for Americans. She took her immense love of French food and transferred it to all those who wanted to learn about it like she did.

The movie touched me. To think that someone like Julie Powell felt empowered because of Julia's recipes truly hit a soft spot for me. I think, secretly, when you write a recipe, you're always trying to bring a feeling of empowerment for people who try it. You want them to succeed. The power of food really does go beyond the wonderful taste in your mouth.
Sure, the Julie in the movie did seem rather self-indulgent and sulky, but who am I to talk? Aren't we all a little? I started reading Julie's blog (I had only read excerpts as of now) and maybe I will come back to you with a stronger opinion on the matter after I'm done.

Now.. for today's recipe. Poached Pears. Dipped in Chocolate. Need I say more? That pretty much did it for me!

Chocolate-Dipped Ginger Poached Pears

Recipe (for 4 smalls pears)
4 small pears
1 cup of water
Juice of 1/2 lemon, with 1 lemon zest
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 inch piece of ginger, finely sliced
6 ounces of good quality bittersweet chocolate

In a small saucepan, add the water, ginger, lemon and sugar and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, gently peel the pears (leaving the stem intact). Once the liquid comes to a simmer, add the pears. Turn them often to make sure every side is in contact with the poaching liquid. Poach for 15-20 minutes or until the pears are fork-tender. If the pears start to change color, and a little lemon juice.

Once the pears are ready, remove from the liquid, dry them and place in the fridge (at least one hour). Slowly melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and place the chocolate in a small bowl. Drizzle the melted chocolate on the pears, starting where the stem touches the fruit. Leave to harden and serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blue Cheese, Tomato and Steak Sandwich

I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for the perfect lunch. For me, it's always a tight balance between not going overboard (no one wants to fall asleep after too big a lunch) but still finding that perfect satisfying boost of energy for the afternoon to come. As all good Parisians, I have a special soft spot for baguette. You may see it in movies (with the added beret and the red wine bottle) but it doesn't make it any less true. The french need their espresso and their baguette to even begin to think that's it's a decent food day. The only problem with baguettes is that they don't last very long. The best is to eat it the day it was made. You might be able to get a second day out of it, but the first is really the better option. However, the good news is that the bread freezes amazingly well. Cut the baguette into smaller sections, tightly wrap in aluminum foil and freeze. The day you want fresh tasting bread, let the baguette come back to room temperature in the oven and you're good to go.

This sandwich could very well be my new favorite lunch. It's simple, lighter than your regular steak sandwich (no mayo) and absolutely delicious.

Blue Cheese, Tomato and Steak Sandwich
Recipe (for 2)
1/2 baguette
1 clove of garlic
1 medium-sized steak
6 yellow cherry tomatoes
1 small handful of baby arugula
1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoon of grainy mustard
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

Cut the baguette in half and cut again lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil and set on the grill for a few minutes, until just crisp. Remove from the heat and rub each side with the peeled garlic clove. Reserve.

Bring the steak to room temperature, pat dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. Set on a grill on medium high heat. Cook for 3-5 minutes on each side or until the steak is just medium rare. Set to rest to let the juices in the meat redistribute. Once the meat has rested (about 10 minutes), slice the meat on the bias.

Cut the tomatoes into thin slices. Spread the mustard on each sides of the baguette. Add the slices of steak to the bottom side of each piece of bread. Top with the crumbled blue cheese, a few slices of tomato, some arugula and press with the top slice of bread to close. Enjoy!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ginger Cookies

I must apologize for the lack of recipes this month. I spent the holidays in France with my family which was as a great, relaxing break. Cooking, however, is not something that I find myself taking much of a break from, but it was harder to document it, without the time or equipment. I've come back to Montreal full of ideas, and ready to try out some new things.. so be prepared for a few France-inspired recipes in the months to come!

Every time I'm able to go back home, I am reminded of just how much France has shaped my love of food. The cured meats, the cheeses, the salts, the olives oils are all the wonderful beginnings to the perfect meal... and when the start product is so good, it's hard to be disappointed with the end result.

This recipe was inspired by a new cookbook I got that's all about ginger. Ginger is one of those strong and pungent flavors that can really add something special to a recipe. It's a great staple of any stir-fry of course, but also works wonders with desserts. After reading about ginger, I had to get into the kitchen.. so here is the start of my ginger adventure. I tested recipes and came up with my own version of simple, cakey ginger cookies.

Ginger Cookies
Recipe (makes 25-30 cookies)
1 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of molasses
2 tsp of fresh grated ginger
1 egg
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp of baking soda
1 1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of diced crystallized ginger
2 tbs of granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 F. In a bowl, combine the softened butter and brown sugar. Using a hand mixer, beat the mixture until light and fluffy (2 minutes). Add the molasses, fresh ginger, and vanilla and beat until just combined. Add the egg and beat until just combined.

In a separate bowl, add the flour, cinnamon and baking soda and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, lightly beating until the mixture is homogeneous. Fold in the crystallized ginger. Form the dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Once the dough has chilled, form 1 inch balls, roll them in sugar and set on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes. Leave to cook on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Milan Cookies

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of Food Network.

To be perfectly honest, this month's daring bakers challenge wasn't really a success for me. I didn't love the batter recipe for the cookies - they turned out kind of elastic-y, and something about the whole texture was just off. It's always a sad moment when you take the time to get your ingredients, pipe batter, sandwich cookies and the end result doesn't seem to add up to the effort. The only remedy is to get in the kitchen again as soon as possible and bake again to start fresh!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Red Berry and Basil Granita

This summer, it's all about berries! I managed to salvage enough of the strawberries I picked to make fresh red berry granita. Granita is an easy way to make a frozen treat in the summertime: all you need is fresh berries, simple syrup and a good freezer! It really has a great intense berry flavor, and you can easily play around with additional flavors to complement the fruit. I love the subtle tones of the basil leaves in this particular recipe I've developed, but it's also delicious with a little sweet balsamic vinegar, or some fresh mint.

I love these recipes that you can make in advance, that can be made with very little ingredients but really showcase the freshness of the produce you use. What has been your favorite dessert recipes this summer?

Red Berry and Basil Granita

Recipe (serves 4)
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of water
2 cups of strawberries
2 cups of raspberries
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
10 basil leaves

In a small saucepan on medium heat, add the sugar and water. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, remove from the heat and let the simple syrup cool.

In a blender, add the fruit, basil, lemon juice and simple syrup. Blend until just smooth. Pour the mixture in a shallow pan, cover with plastic wrap (the plastic wrap should touch the top of the berry mixture to avoid water condensation). After about an hour, scrape the mixture using a fork to form crystals. Make sure to scrape the entire mixture. Scrape again before serving, and garnish with basil leaves. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Strawberry Tarts

Growing up, my parents' family house in the South of France had a small fruit and vegetable patch where I would escape to in the summer to pick and taste that summer's berries. A couple days ago I rediscovered the pleasure of berry picking by visiting a little farm outside of Montreal. Seeing the farmers work the land brings up an array of questions surrounding what we choose to put on our tables everyday. I always catch myself when I'm at the butcher's looking at the neatly packed meat and pushing away the thought that the meat was once part of a living animal. In an effort to better understand where our food comes from, I've made the necessary effort to confront the facts about the origins of our food. Even piking strawberries for a couple hours in the afternoon, in the middle of a farmed field, gets you thinking about the journey from the farm to the table.. and isn't it always better when that trip is as close as can be?

Picking your own vegetables or fruit from a trusted farm also gets you thinking about what we've been fed (pun intended!) to think about food. Tomatoes in the supermarket are generally perfectly round, uniformly red and as shiny as can be. Sure, this may fit our idea of what healthy, nutritious produce should look like, but it's really not how nature intended it. Fruit and vegetables should not be perfect, they should have little bumps and imperfections and come in different shapes and sizes. I had fun picking out all the different kinds of strawberries I could find. The strawberries I used for the tart were all very petite (about the size of raspberries) which worked out well for individual tartelettes. I am planning on making a mixed berry granita with the rest.. although I must admit that at the rate we've been munching on them, I'm not sure I will be able to do so!

See here for my tart dough recipe (I added a tablespoon of cocoa powder to my paste sucree recipe this time), and my pastry cream recipe. At cooking school, we used to finish off all fruit tarts by glazing them with an apricot glaze. You can do the same at home by melting down apricot jam in a small saucepan with a couple tablespoons of water, and gently brushing the mixture on top of the fruit. Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chicken Noodle Soup

It hasn't been a very fun couple of days at the Jenn household. I went for a run on Sunday morning and could feel that something wasn't quite right. My legs were helping me through, but my body wasn't quite in sync. Sure enough, a couple hours later I was under my blanket, feeling.. well, not so well. When I was a kid, I used to describe bad sore throats by picturing little bite-size men playing around my throat with sharp little swords. That image popped back into my head this weekend as I was sipping tea and trying to make the pain go away.

So... today I surrendered to my momentary illness, stayed in bed for most of the day until Oliver and I decided to use this as the perfect opportunity to make chicken noodle soup. It was pouring rain, gray and felt more like December than June anyway so this ended up turning an otherwise gloomy day into a fun-filled culinary adventure. I called this a chicken noodle soup, but I used a lot of the elements of an Italian wedding soup (egg, Parmesan and greens) and ended up with a wonderful medley of flavors. Oliver biked to the nearest butcher and was able to get homemade chicken stock (which we were out of) which made the broth that much more flavorful. All and all, this turned my pain-filled day into a day full of love and comfort food.

Chicken Noodle Soup (serves 4)
2 chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
2 shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 scallions, finely sliced
2 cups of chicken stock
2 handfuls of egg noodles
1 small handful of fresh spinach
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan, and add the 2 bay leaves. Add the chicken.

In a separate saucepan on medium low heat, add a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallots, garlic and carrots. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the scallions and chicken stock. Bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the noodles. Cook according to package instructions.

Once the chicken is poached, remove from the water, and shred using a fork (discard the bay leaves). Season with salt and pepper and add to the chicken broth (about 2 minutes before the noodles are cooked). Add the spinach, the beaten egg and stir until the egg is cooked (about 1 minute). Add the Parmesan. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread, a drizzle of olive oil and a little extra Parmesan. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bakewell Tartelettes

The June Daring Bakers‘ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

When I first read about this month's challenge, I didn't really know what to expect. I had never tasted a Bakewell tart, and am not usually a fan of jam-based desserts. However, I was enthusiastic at the prospect of trying something new and got a glass jar of Italian strawberry jam (which turned out to be extraordinary)to get my imagination going. I actually ended up sticking to the recipe pretty closely, and loved using the jam as a base layer.

Growing up eating "galette des rois" every year, I knew that any chance to make a frangipane should be taken. I love the taste of this flavorful ground almond mixture, and it's so easy to make. They were a lovely addition to the strawberry jam. I opted for making small tartelettes, which were fun to fill and watch puff up in the oven. The result were adorable little baked treats, albeit a little sweet for my taste.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Red Peppers, Peas and Scallions

A nice cold noodle salad ranks pretty high on my list of perfect summer food. It's an easy salad to put together, and it can be prepared several hours before serving. I've been pretty busy lately with several projects and in those times the go-to meals are always the ones I turn to. This salad is versatile (you could use different peppers, mango, slithers of cucumber or grilled chicken if you don't have red pepper or peas) and you could also serve it warm. I served it with a medium rare sliced steak which made for a really nice meal.

For me, summer is all about traveling and eating great food with great company. With those ideals in mind, I am headed to San Francisco very soon. San Francisco would probably be the one place on the West Coast that I could picture myself living in. Being quite fair skinned and not the best camper when it's really warm, San Francisco was the perfect choice for a birthday celebration trip. I will be making the - in my opinion mandatory - trip to Alice Walters' Chez Panisse and have a list of restaurants, bakeries and taco joints I can't wait to try out. Life is good!

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Red Peppers, Peas and Scallions

Recipe (serves 4)

2 teaspoons of low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce
Buckweat soba noodles for 4
1/2 cup of cooked peas
1 small red pepper, finely diced
2 large scallions, finely minced
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds
Canola oil

In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and fish sauce. Reserve.

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain, and lightly drizzle with some canola oil to prevent the noodles from sticking. Reserve and let cool.

Transfer the cold noodles to your serving bowl. Add the diced red peppers, scallions, peas and sesame seeds. Dress with the soy marinade and stir. Serve cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuna, Arugula and Apple Sandwiches

Tuna and apple might seem like an odd combination but it works wonderfully in sandwiches. The tuna is creamy, the apples are tangy and sweet and the arugula adds that peppery and lemony taste that makes all the flavors meld beautifully.

As the weather is slowly moving towards summery temperatures, I like to plan out great picnic food. There's just something about packing up delicious goods and enjoying them with friends or family outdoors. These sandwiches work perfectly for those kind of days. I like to make them mini sandwiches - they are less messy and allow you to make different sandwich combos to try. If it's really warm and you can't keep the sandwiches cool, I would suggest skipping the mayo and using a little more mustard instead. Serve it with a fresh salad (I like roasted red and yellow peppers with goat cheese crumbles) and a glass of homemade ice tea and you're set!

Tuna, Arugula and Apple Sandwiches
(makes 4 mini sandwiches)
2 small cans of tuna packed in olive oil
3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of grainy mustard
1 handful of arugula
1 granny smith apple, thinly sliced
4 mini ciabatta rolls
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Slice the ciabatta rolls lengthwise. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and toast for 3-4 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and crusty. Take off the heat and reserve. In a small bowl whisk the mayonnaise and grainy mustard and reserve.

In a bowl, add the tuna (drained from most of the oil). Using a fork, press down on the tuna to separate the chunks. Fold in 3/4 of the mayonnaise mixture and add a good pinch of salt and pepper. Divide the tuna mixture and add it to each ciabatta half. Layer with a few slices of apple and top with arugula. Spread the mayonnaise on the other side of each piece of ciabatta. Close the sandwiches and enjoy!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mini Vanilla and Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

Cupcakes are one of those great treats that transcend generational barriers - children love them, adults secretly (or not so secretly) do too and they're becoming more and more popular as a replacement to ornate 3 tiered wedding cakes or as the finger food of choice for baby showers or birthdays. As I've mentioned before, living in New York pushed me over the edge. I was already cupcake-obsessed, but New York opened a new world I never knew existed. I had never tasted so many different types of cupcakes and I loved every minute of it. Montreal is not really a cupcake town which has encouraged me to make more of them at home.

These cupcakes are an easy classic. The batter is slightly different to your regular cupcake batter (there are no yolks, but airy egg whites instead which give the cupcakes a wonderfully moist texture)and they are topped with a 3 minute chocolate ganache. I've also taken a liking to using silicone cupcake wrappers instead of the paper ones. Not only are they more environmentally friendly for all of us cupcake lovers who go through many, many cupcake wrappers in the year, but they are also easy to clean, don't stick and come in plenty of different colors. Another thing: mini cupcakes are the way to go! If you're planning on trying a lot of different cupcakes for the summer, making them smaller might just let you try that many more!

Mini Vanilla and Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

Recipe (for about 60 mini cupcakes), adapted from Martha Stewart

3 1/4 cups + 1 tablespoon of cake flour (not self-rising)
4 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of milk
1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons ( 1 3/4 sticks) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cups of sugar
5 large egg whites at room temperature
2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla extract and milk.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar in a steady stream and beat until pale and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 batches alternating with 2 additions of the milk mixture. Beat until just combined.

In another bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks (do not overmix). Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the butter batter to loosen it. Add the rest of the egg whites in 2 batches, gently folding them in. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Place your cupcakes wrappers in the muffin pan. Fill each cup 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake come out just clean (bake 22 minutes for normal-sized cupcakes). Leave to cool on a cooling rack before icing.

Chocolate Ganache
6 ounces of semi sweet chocolate
2/3 cup of heavy cream

Finely chop the chocolate and place it in heat proof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil. As soon as the cream starts to boil, remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate mixture is homogeneous. Dip each cupcake into the chocolate mixture. Enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Udon, Porc and Shittake Mushroom Soup

I've been pretty busy lately.... and sadly just realized that I forgot to celebrate my 100 posts mark. I guess it's never to late to start the festivities, so happy 100th posts chocolate shavings!

"Chocolate Shavings...." my dad said on the phone the other day. "How did you come up with that name anyway? Is it a reference to the many, many baking experiences you had in our family kitchen growing up?" I paused. True, I started baking when I was pretty young. Making various baked goods was one of my great hobbies, and I learned early on that I didn't really like to follow recipes. I would come up with my own crazy concoctions and make the whole family eat it. Sometimes they were good... sometimes not so much. "You're right dad.. but I really enjoy cooking savory foods too. The name chocolate shavings is my way of mentioning all the little cooking tricks that turn a meal from a simple cooked dish to something chocolate shavings added to a white chocolate mousse, or lemon zest sprinkled over a simple fennel salad...or a drizzle of truffle oil added to everyday mashed potatoes." My dad paused. "I see, well maybe you should come home more often. Teach me how to move away from the microwave and start using a real pan". My dad has a growing kitchen love affair with microwaves. It's the only kitchen utensil he uses to perfection, and the one that saves him when my mom's not there to save the day. "Well, whatever it is, your site always makes me hungry". That was the best compliment of my day, and comforts me in the fact that I couldn't have chosen a better carreer to dedicate my time to.

This soup is one of my latest concoctions. The meatballs are made with basic asian-inspired flavors (sesame oil, scallions, chinese chives, soy sauce)and are cooked in a simple chicken stock based broth flavored with shittake mushrooms. The mushrooms darken the broth and give it a lovely rich color. I served it with udon noodles, but the soup would be delicious without them as well.

Udon, Porc and Shittake Mushroom Soup (serves 4)
For the meatballs
1/2 lb of ground pork
2 leaves of napa cabbage, finely diced
4 shittake mushrooms, finely diced
1 green onion, finely diced
3 chinese chives, finely diced
2 teaspoons of finely diced ginger
1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of corn starch

For the broth
2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup of water
a pinch of powdered dashi stock (optional)
a good handful of udon noodles, cooked
4 shittake mushrooms, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
a handful of chopped coriander, to serve

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients to make the meatballs. Make sure that all the ingredients are very finely diced. Form into bite size meatballs and reserve.

In a stockpot, add the chicken stock and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer. Add the dashi. Carefully add the meatballs. Cook for 5 minutes and add the mushrooms and green onion. cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the meatballs are just cooked through. Add the warm cooked noodles to your serving bowls, and top with the meatballs and broth. Serve with chopped coriander. Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake

I've been meaning to make a strawberry shortcake for a while now, and finally got around to it this weekend. It was the perfect dessert to bring for a post BBQ meal - it tastes light (it's not really, but the airy whipped cream makes it feel like it is!) and it's pretty quick to make. I omitted the gelatin though - firstly because I didn't have any, but also because a couple of our friends don't eat meat. Made with animal product (think collagen derived from animals' skin and bones) it's really not the nicest thing to slip into a cake when some of your friends are vegetarian. The cake turned out fine without it, and I don't think the gelatin would have added that much more to the texture of the cream.

This is one of those great dessert for big gatherings. It presents very nicely, boosts great summer colors and, most importantly, is delicious.

Strawberry Shortcake
(Serves 12), adapted from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 pound strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan, and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour paper and sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in 3 parts and milk in 2, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, split cake in half horizontally; place bottom half, cut side up, on a serving plate.

Make topping: In a large bowl, combine strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl until very soft peaks form.

Arrange half of strawberries over bottom cake layer; top with half of whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Cover with top half of cake, cut side down. Top cake with remaining whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Refrigerate cake and remaining strawberries separately, at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). Just before serving, spoon strawberries over cake.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oyako Don

I've always had a soft spot for Japanese cuisine - it's healthy, uses wonderfully fresh ingredients and is bursting with flavor and color. I think it all started when I tasted sushi for the first time in high school. I remember trying to get my parents to appreciate it as much as I did, with little success. My mom is happy with a chirashi at lunch sometimes now (she really likes raw salmon) but I never got them to appreciate much else. I guess there's something about raw fish that doesn't appeal to everyone - much like my love for beef tartare that has given me some strange looks in the past in North America. But my sushi journey continued nontheless - from soft shell crab sushi rolls a couple years ago in Sydney to scallop sashimi from one of my favorite sushi restaurants in Montreal. Good sushi is expensive though, that's a given. A lot of sushi places in Canada try to sell you on the cheaper stuff, but I really don't like it. The cream cheese and sun-dried tomato sushi I've seen is just not my thing... neither is most of the mayonnaise-based rolls with very little fish. So, it turns out that I have been spending more than advised on really good sushi.

Ordering Oyako Don is a great option for those times when you can't spend too much on sushi rolls. You can indulge on a few pieces of sushi as an appetizer, and get a comforting bowl of Japanese rice with sweet mirin-licked onions, tender chicken and egg. The taste of this dish is so very unique - it's sweet and salty, with layers of flavor coming from dashi stock, soy sauce and mirin. It's really, really delicious. Oliver and I tried to make it at home a few times, and I think we've come pretty close to what we get at the restaurant. And the best part? It's ready in 20 minutes (I guess that sounds a little Rachel-Ray like, but you get the point).

Oyako Don (serves 4)
2 cups of sushi rice, cooked
1 white onion, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup of dashi stock
2 teaspoons of mirin
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 pinch of brown sugar
4 chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
2 green onions, sliced
3 eggs, beaten

Heat a little vegetable oil in pan on medium heat and add the onions. Add the dashi, mirin, soy sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 7-8 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the chicken. Cover and cook for 7-8 minutes - stirring a few times. Add the green onions and stir. Pour the beaten eggs over the chicken and onion mixture in an even layer. Cover and cook until the egg is just set.

Serve over Japanese rice. Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Grilled Zucchini Salad

Here is my 3rd zucchini recipe for the summer. This is a salad I've been making for ages. It's simple, crisp and puts a smile on my face every time I serve it. You can easily switch it by using a medley of different vegetables - and can hold off on the chili if you don't enjoy the spice. I'm happy to say that my tolerance to spiciness has somewhat improved...somewhat that is! Oliver has tried, tried and tried again to increase my tolerance to spice, with some success, but sadly I can't compete with his.

Out for Vietnamese pho soup, he has the habit of adding hot sauce until his eyes happily water. He definitely enjoys it that way - and I.. well, I just watch. A little dried chili in fresh summery salad though, I can take!

Grilled Zucchini Salad
(serves 4)
2 zucchinis
½ lemon, zest and juice
A small pinch of dried chili
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 small handful of fresh mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the zucchini in thin strips. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, chili and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Spoon half of this vinaigrette onto the strips of zucchini. Set your BBQ or indoor grill to medium high heat. Grill the strips for 1-2 minutes on each side.
Add the zucchini to the serving bowl and drizzle with the extra vinaigrette. Coarsely chop the mint and add to the salad. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!
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