31 March 2010

Lemon-Yogurt Cupcakes (aka Little Cups of Sunshine)

It rains in England.  Lots.  I'm not complaining -- just telling the truth.  I feel like I haven't seen the sun in... well, ages.  I needed a summery kick, and these little guys did a great job.  Plus, they're super-cute.

I found the recipe ages ago and waited and waited.  I don't know why I waited.  Originally done here by Ina Garten in the form of a loaf cake, it seemed like a nice idea, but a little underwhelming.  Once I decided to turn it into cupcakes, the idea took off and I could wait no longer.  The cake has a simple base flavoured with lemon zest, and the best, best, best part is that as they are cooling, they get another dose of lemon with a lemon juice and sugar glaze.  Then once they are completely cool, they get even more lemony with an additional glaze, this time made with icing sugar (known as confectioners' sugar to Americans).  They were a little labour-intensive due to the two different glazes, but completely worth the effort!

Lemon-Yogurt Cupcakes
(adapted from the Food Network)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup greek-style yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup lemon juice

First glaze:
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Second glaze:
1 cup icing (confectioners') sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350F (177C).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Line cupcake tin with paper cups and fill about 2/3 full.  Each batch should take about 12 or so minutes, but keep an eye on them since all ovens are different (and mine is completely mental) - bake until the tops of the cupcakes turn a pretty brownish-golden colour.

For the first glaze, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

While the cupcakes are cooling off, spoon over the glaze - I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons per cupcake and ended up with some glaze left over.

Make the 2nd glaze by whisking the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice.  Spoon over cupcakes when they are completely cooled.

Makes about 24 cupcakes.

20 March 2010

Halloumi, Spinach and Bell Pepper Wrap with Chilli-Spiked Sour Cream

Ok, let's talk about halloumi.

Halloumi is good stuff.  It makes this vegetarian girl happy.  It's a heavy, hearty cheese with a high melting point, and so it can be grilled.  Yeah, you read that right.  Stuck on a kebab and grilled.  Or, if (like me) you don't have a grill, sautéing works great, too.  The cheese should be "cooked" - it brings out the flavours and improves the texture of the cheese.  It's a nice replacement for chicken in lots of vegetarian dishes, like this one.

I loved the clean flavours of this dish - really no seasoning to speak of, outside of the harissa used in the sauce.  No added salt (the cheese has a certain pre-existing salt content).  When all of the flavours balance nicely and pack a punch without adding anything from the spice rack, it makes me happy.  And, just look at how pretty it is.

Halloumi, Spinach and Bell Pepper Wrap with Chilli-Spiked Sour Cream

1 bell pepper, colour of your choosing, or a mixture of colours
~ 1/3 large yellow onion, sliced
1/2 package of halloumi, sliced into planks
Big handful of spinach, rinsed & dried, stems removed
Some olive oil for frying
2 tortillas/ fajita wraps

For sauce:
Few tablespoons of sour cream
About 1 teaspoon harissa paste

Lime wedges for serving.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add pepper and onion and sauté until vegetables are soft, remove from pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, make chilli cream sauce by mixing the harissa paste with the sour cream until incorporated.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan and fry halloumi planks until golden, about 3 minutes per side.

While the halloumi is grilling, assemble wraps: arrange spinach on tortillas, then add the sautéed vegetalbes.  When the halloumi is finished, add to tortilla and spoon the sauce on.  Serve open-faced with lime wedges.

13 March 2010

Chocolate Ganache Bars with Pretzel Crust

I have this thing for sweet and salty. Pecan turtles. Salted caramels. And, yes, the pièce de résistance, chocolate-covered pretzels. So when I heard about a chocolate ganache tart in a crust made from crushed pretzels, it didn't stay on my radar for too long before I had a go at it.

I decided I wanted to cut it into squares, for ease of serving, so I used a square baking pan instead of a proper tart pan. The result was a much thicker crust (which needed to be baked for longer) and a thicker layer of ganache as well. I wouldn't recommend it for bars again, since the crust ended up being a pain to cut through, and when served in bar-form, the ganache was a bit too soft to get a nice bite out of it. To remedy this, I would suggest scoring the crust with a knife before baking it off (and/or making the crust thinner), and using less cream in the ganache. But if you're looking for a killer tart, without any changes, you've just meet your dream-come-true. I've posted the original recipe below with some additional notes.

Now, despite my issues with the too-thick crust and too-creamy ganache, I have to say that these were awesome.  Crave-them-all-the-time awesome.  People-will-ask-if-you-have-any-more awesome.  So yes, they will be made again.

Chocolate Tart with Pretzel Crust


1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups coarsely crushed thin pretzels (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 ounces (~55g) bittersweet chocolate, melted


1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I used 1 1/4 cup [300ml], and the ganache was still quite soft)
12 ounces (340g) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used half milk chocolate and half semi-sweet)

In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with 3/4 cup of the pretzels and the confectioners’ sugar at low speed until creamy. Beat in the flour and egg. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of pretzels, being sure to leave some pretzel pieces intact. Flatten the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Roll out the dough between the sheets of plastic wrap to a 12-inch round. Peel off the top sheet and invert the dough over a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the corners and patch any tears. Trim the overhanging dough and refrigerate the shell for 30 minutes or until firm.

Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for about 30 minutes, until nearly set. Remove the parchment and weights and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the tart shell is firm; cover the edge with foil if it darkens too much. Let the shell cool completely. Brush the melted chocolate over the bottom and up the side and refrigerate for 10 minutes, until set.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Remove from head and pour over the chocolate and let stand for about a minute. Slowly whisk until smooth. Transfer the filling to a bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Pour the filling into the shell and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and crushed pretzels.

10 March 2010

Buttermilk Rye Pancakes

Alton Brown is one of the few television chefs I really respect.  Now, I don't watch a lot of television these days, but I do cook - a lot.  And his recipes are perfect.  He really focuses on the science of cooking, which lends so much understanding of how ingredients interact with each other during the cooking process.  Now, how could I not appreciate bringing a little science into the kitchen?

I was having a lazy Sunday morning.  I'd slept late, and while most days I don't eat breakfast, I was really feeling the potential that morning.  I was well-rested.  I didn't have much else to do.  I had buttermilk in the fridge.  (Those three conditions, incidentally, are vital conditions if one wishes to create anything great... be it Sunday morning pancakes or a life-changing, quit-your-job-and-move-to-another-country career plan).

So I came across Alton Brown's buttermilk pancake recipe on the Food Network site.  The only thing I did differently here was that I swapped half of the AP flour for some whole rye flour I'd picked up at the farmers' market.  The rye ended up being a perfect addition, transforming the usual fluffy/creamy buttermilk pancakes into something a bit more earthy and wholesome.  I'd love to try other types of flour here, just for fun... that is, if I ever get tired of the recipe just as it is.  The recipe provided is for a mix to keep in the cupboard, and while you could half this mix (or more) for single-use purposes, why-oh-why would you want to?

Buttermilk Rye Pancakes
adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

Dry pancake mix:

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (check expiration date first)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a lidded container. Shake to mix. Use the mix within 3 months.

"Instant" Pancakes:

2 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons (about 55g) melted butter
2 cups Pancake Mix, recipe above
1 stick (about 113g) butter, for greasing the pan
2 cups fresh fruit such as blueberries, if desired

Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350F (175C).

Whisk together the egg whites and the buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg yolk mixture in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work all the lumps out.

Check to see that the griddle is hot by placing a few drops of water onto to the griddle. The griddle is ready if the water dances across the surface.

Lightly butter the griddle. Wipe off thoroughly with a paper towel. (No butter should be visible.)

Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle and sprinkle on fruit if desired. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancake is set.

Serve immediately or remove to a towel-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Hold in a warm place (e.g. oven at 200F/90C) for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 12 pancakes

I recommend, of course, serving with pure Ohio maple syrup.  I realise this is not widely available outside my childhood home in Northeast Ohio (my family has been making maple syrup for uncountable generations, and it's the only kind that tastes good to me).  My advice: spend the money.  Use real maple syrup.  Aunt Jemima is not real maple syrup.  I cannot stress this enough.  If there is more than one ingredient listed on your bottle of maple syrup, it's not maple syrup. (Okok, stepping off my soapbox now...)

06 March 2010

Feta and Avocado Sandwich

Still in my quest for vegetarian sandwiches, I dreamed this one up while staring at the open refrigerator, starved and slightly slack-jawed from reading about I-can't-remember-what (but I'm sure it probably had something to do with baboons).  It was nice... a mixture of flavours I've not tried before, and a filling lunch that got my brain back on task.  I loved the combination of salty feta and sweet honey, and the pairing of smooth avocado with the crisp lettuce.  This one's a keeper - I can't wait until tomatoes are in season, because this would certainly benefit from a red, juicy tomato, sliced paper-thin and hiding underneath the feta.

Feta and Avocado Sandwich

Spread mayonnaise on 2 slices of whole grain bread and stack:
-bread slice no. 1
-drizzle on some honey
-more lettuce
-the other slice of bread, and you're all done!