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Scones with Dried Cranberry, Apricot and Tonka Bean

4 Sep

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This past summer a friend of mine visited the small Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and brought me back a tiny little plastic bag containing Tonka Beans.   Until that moment I had never in my life heard about Tonka Beans and was immediately curious about what they were all about.  These little dark brown shrivelled beans have a heady sweet vanilla aroma with a hint of spiciness as well.  They’re meant to be grated and used like nutmeg and are quite often added to dishes such as custards, ice creams and cakes (as well as some savoury dishes).  And from what I’ve read they boast having impressive herbal and even mythical properties.  My kind of ingredient.  I’m officially a fan.

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock because the Tonka Bean has almost become a celebrity in the culinary world these past years.  Read here for a fascinating article of the bean and the fact it’s technically illegal in the States (thanks to the high amount of coumarin found in the beans).  And drool over all sorts of delicious Tonka Bean recipes on Pinterest here.

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(photo source)

Being the curious baker that I am I was busy grating these little beans in my kitchen within hours of receiving them.  I decided to make some simple scones with dried cranberry and apricot.  I thought Tonka paired with the dried fruit would help make it possible to really taste the beans without being overshadowed by other big flavours.  And in the end they were perfect.  There is definitely a very familiar vanilla flavour that the beans give the scones but with a deeper more delicate flavour underneath that I haven’t managed to pinpoint yet.

I love that there are still wonderful new ingredients out there waiting to be discovered.  And I love that I have friends who bring me back these ingredients from their jaunts around the world.

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Japanese Sponge Cake (Castella Cake)

7 Aug

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Here I am getting ready for a three week vacation to Canada. The bags still aren’t fully packed and the house not ready to be left for almost a month. And I’m feeling really relaxed. Did I mention we leave in an hour? I’m usually one of those people that has everything ironed and packed a week beforehand, the house spotless and in order and the kids cleaned and clothed and ready for the airplane hours before we leave the house. Did I mention the kids are still in their pajamas splayed out on the carpet reading comics as I type this? I blame it on the heat.IMG_0783

So the other day, instead of ironing clothes for five people for three week’s vacation, I decided to make a cake that I’ve been dreaming about since we were in Japan last year. It’s a typical sponge type cake that you find all over Japan and it has this soft and moist spongy consistency that is light and fluffy at the same time. Confusing I know. It’s thought that the cake actually originated in Portugal and was brought over to Japan in the 16th century (to the southern island of Kyushu).

Surprisingly enough there is no butter or oil in this cake. Which means it’s absolutely sin-free and healthy of course. It has a lovely pale yellow colour (thanks to the 6 egg yolks) and is so pretty when served on a plate with a side of peaches (which I saute in butter and brown sugar).

Read on for recipe…

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Italian Crostata

4 Jul

IMG_9551First of all I have to admit something.  For my first decade of living in Italy I didn’t even attempt to try a piece of crostata.  To me it looked dry and tasteless.  And it was full of jam.  I used to despise any sort of dessert that involved jam.  Then one day I found myself starving at a kid’s birthday party  and the only thing being served was crostata.  So I took a piece to relieve my hunger induced headache and I couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  At first I thought it was probably due to the fact I hadn’t eaten all day and chopped liver would have tasted divine.  But in the end I realised that crostata is delicious.  Really delicious.

This past week I spent the morning with one of my closest Italian friends and she kindly taught me how to make the basic Italian Crostata.  It’s surprisingly easy, only has 5 ingredients and it takes minutes to prepare.  That’s my kind of recipe.  There are the traditional jam filled crostata as well as the blind baked crostata pie shells which are filled with anything from pastry cream to Nutella to fresh fruits after being baked.  The options are endless.

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Chocolate Cherry Cakes with Cinnamon

13 Jun
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Today I have a really fantastic and surprisingly quick and simple cake recipe.  Seeing as it’s full on cherry season over here I thought I’d bake something cherry inspired.
So the other day I donned my latex gloves and got to work pitting the cherries (I have a pretty serious allergy to cherries as you can read about here).  I had even considered wearing goggles but I was expecting the delivery man and just couldn’t imagine what he’d think about the already weird Canadian women once he saw me in a get-up like that.  And I’m happy to report that I got through the entire recipe with zero contact with the cherries and I didn’t end up looking like a monster as I did last year when I attempted the Cherry Lavender Jam.  My kids still have nightmares about that.
These deep chocolate cakes paired with the tartness of the cherries and the delicate spiciness of the cinnamon ended up being a really delicious combination.  I think these would be fantastic with raspberries, blackberries or even chopped peaches.  I made them in individual miniature pans but it would be just as nice baked in a large tart pan as well.

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Mascarpone Pots with Fresh Berries

7 Jun

IMG_8657Last week-end we had some friends over for a Sunday morning brunch.  Luckily the weather was beautiful so after months of cold and rain we could finally sit outside and eat and chat and enjoy the sunshine.  The little kids frolicked in the garden in Gramma-made princess dresses and the parents drank home-made beer and my famous (well not really) rhubarb, lime and prosecco cocktails with fresh mint (see post about those here).

Besides all the normal brunch fare I made these little pots with a cookie bottom, mascarpone cream and fresh berries.  I actually invented the recipe on the spot not really knowing if they’d be edible or not.  In the end the were definitely edible, I’d even say delicious.  They have a cheesecake feel to them without the heaviness (I did add a little cream cheese to the mixture though).  And there is absolutely no baking involved in this quick and simple recipe making it perfect for hot summers when the last thing you want to do is put the oven on.  I served them in pretty little jam jars with lids and they were devoured within minutes.  I’ll take that as compliment.

Read on for recipe:

Mascarpone Pots with Fresh Berries

250 g mascarpone
75 g cream cheese
200 ml fresh cream
1 tsp vanilla
2-4 Tbsp sugar (depending on taste)
tiny pinch of salt

125 g finally ground digestive biscuits
70-80g butter

1. Mix ground cookie crumbs with melted butter until well blended.  Press into the bottom of little glasses (or as I did glass jars).  You can decide how thick you would like the cookie crumb layer.

2. Whip cream until stiff peaks begin to form.  Set aside.

3. In mixer cream together the mascarpone and cream cheese until smooth.  Add in vanilla, sugar and salt and mix until just combined.  With a spatula gently fold in whipped cream.

4.  Drop the mascarpone mixture on top of the cookie crumb bottom (shake glass or bottom to level it out).  Sprinkle fresh raspberries and blueberries on top (or any other berries).  Refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.  Enjoy!

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After our brunch guests left we headed out to watch our twin daughters play Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in their theatre group’s rendition of Alice In Wonderland (Alice Nel Paese delle Meraviglie).  In case you’re wondering, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are translated as Dammelo and Dimmelo in Italian.  Over all a really lovely Sunday.

Wafeltjes

17 May

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Today I have a great recipe for Belgian Waffle Cookies.  These miniature wafeltjes are baked in a waffle iron and are so rich and buttery (the recipe calls for 400g butter!).  My husband grew up eating these cookies (made by his grandparents) and is capable of eating them by the dozen.  And now my kids as well.  While making these our neighbours were calling over the fence to know what the amazing smell was that was coming from our kitchen.  There is nothing quite like the smell of baking waffles (there must be a waffle inspired perfume out there somewhere).    These keep for at least 3-4 days in a closed tin and are great to package up as a gift for someone special.

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We found the recipe for these waffles on the site of Jeroen Meus who is pretty much the Jamie Oliver of Belgium.  Jeroen has his own cooking show, tons of cookbooks and a really great website full of recipes.  Everything I’ve tried of his has turned out to be delicious and simple to make (favorites are Baked Cauliflower with Ground Meat and Bruschetta with Guacamole, Smoked Sprot and Tomato Salsa).

Continue for wafeltjes recipe…

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Sciroppo di Rabarbaro

8 May

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Here in Italy the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and fragrant and I’m blissfully content to be able to get out in my garden and putter around.  I’ve been busy planting all sorts of new plants, trees and bushes.  I expect about 25% of them to survive as I have a pretty bad track record in the gardening department.  My heart is in the right place but I just don’t have that special touch needed to keep my garden alive and thriving.  I’ve been known to even kill lavender which is pretty much impossible in the Italian climate.

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One plant that seems resistant to me and my non existent green thumb is rabarbaro (rhubarb).  Due to the fact you can’t buy rhubarb in any of the grocery shops or vegetable stalls we planted it a few years ago and it is thriving.  I show it off to everyone who comes by our house and apparently it’s known to all to be the fool-proof plant (why didn’t I know this years ago?).  Just in the last three weeks our rhubarb has taken over an entire bed and is threatening our beloved strawberry patch.

So to give our strawberries some room to breathe and grow I decided to cut back the rhubarb a bit and make some of my favourite Rhubarb Syrup.  I’ve always loved the delicate spiciness it brings to cold summer beverages.

But what I love the most about this syrup is the dainty light peachy rose colour it has.  I could design whole summer cottages with that colour as my inspiration and theme.  So lovely and reminiscent of warm breezy summer days in Nova Scotia.

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Read on for the quick and very simple recipe for Rhubarb Syrup and these delicious cocktails above (which I’m contemplating naming “Jillinis“).

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