Saturday, 26 December 2015

Halibut with Crispy Capers and Red Pepper Mayo

I bought the halibut so that I could use up a red pepper, and some sriracha...sounds crazy, but it's the truth. The red pepper was losing its crispiness, so I roasted it, and made a spicy may to serve with the simple, pan fried halibut and capers.

It was a success, and the leftover mayo was used for sandwhiches the next day. The remaining roasted red pepper was used on a pizza. I served it with my version of salt and vinegar roasted potatoes, an inspiration I found on, and some fresh asparagus.

Roughly chop:

1/2 roasted red pepper
1 clove garlic

Puree using a hand blender, adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil.


1/4 cup of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha

Puree until smooth and well combined.

Taste and adjust seasoning...salt, pepper or more sriracha if needed.

Stir in:

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Set aside while you cook the fish.

Season both sides of the halibut with salt and pepper.

Heat a pan with olive oil until it is smoking hot. Add the fish and cook until it is crispy and brown on the bottom. It should be halfway cooked at this point.

Carefully turn the fish over to cook the other side.


1 tablespoon capers

Cook until the fish is done, and the capers are crispy on the outside.

Remove the fish from the pan and serve with the roasted red pepper mayo and crispy capers.

  • If you do not have a freshly roasted red pepper, or a fresh red pepper to roast, use purchased roasted red pepper. They can be found in most grocery stores, and are usually in jars, which makes it easy to keep the rest for another meal.
  • I used a hand blender for this small amount...I was only feeding two people. For a larger amount of sauce a blender or food processor can be used. If you choose to use a food processor, stir the mayonnaise in by hand, as it tends to split when processed.
  • Any hot sauce can be used. It can also be omitted if you are a not a fan of spicy foods; the amount can also be increased.
  • I had fresh basil, and used it to complement the capers. Cilantro is another choice for this sauce, as are parsley or fresh chives.
  • The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, well covered. It can be used on sandwhiches or wraps; to make chicken, egg or tuna salad; added to cooked potatoes to make a spicy potato salad.
  • The sauce can be served with any fish, grilled, roasted or pan fried. It can also be served with chicken.
  • The capers will crisp up on the outside, but still be soft on the inside. They add some texture and tang to cut through the richness of the mayonnaise. If you want the capers to be crispier, cook them for longer, adding them to the pan at the same time as the fish. You can also shallow fry them in really hot oil (a temperature of about 350F works best), and then drain them on paper towel to remove as much excess oil as possible.
  • Crispy capers can be served on salads; with smoked salmon; as a garnish for a seafood pasta.
  • A wedge of fresh lemon can be served with the fish...the juice will enhance the fish and also offset the richness of the sauce.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Dark,Milk and White Chocolate Truffles

Christmas Day is here , and I finally have a chance to sit down and blog again. Things have been crazy, between work and getting ready for Christmas. I did manage to find some time to make truffles to give to friends, neighbours and co-workers as gifts.

I had to buy the chocolate I needed, but I used items in my pantry to guide the flavour profile and outside coating of each truffle. I used some of my coconut and the last tablespoon of rum to make a white chocolate truffle with rum and toasted coconut; vanilla chai tea to make a milk chocolate truffle, rolled in milk chocolate shavings; my ancho chili powder to make a chili chocolate truffle, which I finished off with a spiced cocoa.

Truffles have a basic base recipe, and then you can take them in any direction you choose, based on available pantry items. I will discuss this more at the end of the blog.

To make the base for the white chocolate truffles, melt in a double boiler:

12 ounces chopped white chocolate
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon whipping cream

Keep the water at a simmer, and stir often, removing the bowl from the heat when the chocolate has melted.

When the mixture is smooth, pour it into a container, and allow it to cool before covering and refrigerating overnight.

To make the milk chocolate truffles, infuse the Chai tea into the whipping cream, by heating:

1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons dried Chai tea blend

Once the whipping cream has scalded, turn off the heat and allow the tea to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Strain the tea blend from the cream.

Add enough whipping cream to make sure that you have 1/2 cup of cream.

As with the white chocolate truffles, melt in a double boiler:

12 ounces chopped milk chocolate
1/2 cup Chai infused whipping cream

When the chocolate is melted, pour the truffle mix into a container and allow it to cool before covering and refrigerating overnight.

For the dark chocolate truffles, melt in a double boiler:

10 ounces chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chili
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

As with the white and milk chocolate truffles, when the truffle base is smooth, pour it into a container and allow it to cool before covering and refrigerating overnight.

Prepare the coatings for the truffles:

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the outside edges of the milk chocolate to make shavings.

Lightly toast coconut at 325F, stirring often as it tends to cook faster around the edges and can burn easily. Allow to cool completely once it has toasted.

For the dark chocolate truffle coating, sift together:

1/4 cup cocoa
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ancho chili

The same process is used for rolling all of the truffles.

Use a spoon to scoop some of the truffle mix from the container. I usually weigh mine at 1/2 ounce each, but the size can be as big as you choose.

Form the truffle mix into rough ball shapes and set on a plate or baking tray.

Roll each ball into a ball; they do not have to be perfectly round.

Place the balls into the appropriate coating and gently roll around until it is well coated.

Remove and place onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

  • As I mentioned, there is a basic truffle recipe, which can then be altered by the addition of different flavourings. As both white and milk chocolate tend to be softer, they require less whipping cream to chocolate than dark chocolate does. My base recipe for dark chocolate truffles is 10 ounces of chocolate to 3/4 cup whipping cream. For both white and milk chocolate I like to use a base recipe of 12 ounces of chocolate to 1/2 cup of whipping cream.
  • If you choose to use a liquid flavouring such as  strong coffee or liqueur, subtract that from the amount of whipping cream...this will keep the ratio of chocolate to liquid consistent. Either use strong instant coffee or espresso for maximum coffee flavour. Any liqueur can be used, as well as rum, brandy or whiskey.
  • Additions such as citrus zest, dried spices (cinnamon, chilies, star anise, five spice to name a few options), or extracts such as vanilla, almond or peppermint can be added directly into the mix during melting.
  • Chopped dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries or blueberries can be soaked in juice, liqueur or tea before being added into the truffle mix after the chocolate has melted. Be sure to strain off as much liquid as possible...the strained liquid can be used as part of the whipping cream for the truffle base.
  • Nut butters such as peanut or almond can be added in during the melting stage. Use 1 tablespoon per recipe.
  • Candied ginger can be finely chopped and mixed in.
  • Toasted and chopped nuts can either be folded into the truffle mix, or used to coat the truffles in after they have been rolled into balls.
  • The cream can be infused with loose leaf teas, fresh herbs, lavender blossoms, coffee beans or fresh ginger.
  • The truffles can be formed into balls and frozen; defrost before rolling in the coating of your choice.
  • Some coating options include cocoa, plain or sifted with icing sugar and spices; toasted and chopped nuts; toasted coconut; chocolate shavings; dipped into melted chocolate; coarse sugar; finely chopped caramel or praline.
  • To make a salted caramel truffle, first make a caramel sauce by caramelizing 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. When you have a deep amber colour, add in 3/4 cup of whipping cream and stir over a low heat until the caramel is melted. Measure out enough caramel sauce to use as the whipping cream in the recipe. Add sea salt during the melting step of the recipe. Start with 1/2 teaspoon and adjust according to taste.
  • Truffles make great Christmas gifts, hostess gifts, bite sized desserts for a party. They will keep in the fridge for about a week, and will keep frozen for a few months, if well sealed.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Caramel Poached Pear Cake with Blue Cheese Whipped Cream

It's been a long week, and hard to believe that that much time has passed since I made this cake. The crazy Christmas rush at work has kept me from sharing the recipe, but I have some time now.

We had friends over for coffee last week and I made this with the 2 pears I needed to use; I was also inspired to use up my blue cheese by folding it into the whipped cream to serve with the cake. I know this sounds strange, but it worked, especially as the pears were poached in caramel...the hints of tangy blue cheese went really well with the sweetness of the pears. The cake had a lovely texture, soft and crumbly with a bit of crunch thanks to the almonds and cornmeal.

I used the Almond Cornmeal Cake with Raspberries as my inspiration, using some of the pear poaching liquid for the cake batter. There were some poached pears left over as I had too many pieces for the daughter ate these as a dessert by themselves.

Peel and core:

2 pears

Cut each pear half into 3 pieces.

Start the caramel for poaching the pears.

In a heavy bottomed pan, combine:

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Cook on a low heat, swirling the pot occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.

Turn the heat to medium low and allow it to come to a boil. When the colour of the syrup starts to change, watch it very carefully.

Continue to cook the syrup, swirling the pot occasionally to ensure even cooking and colouring.

When the caramel is a dark amber, as shown in this picture, turn off the heat.

Immediately add:

1 1/2 cups cold water

The caramel will seize up, bubble and hiss, so be careful to keep your distance. Turn the heat back on and allow the caramel to dissolve and come to a boil.

Gently place the pears into the liquid, and turn the heat down to a simmer.

If the pears are not covered by the liquid, add a bit more water.

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the inside of the pot, and cover the pears with it, pressing down gently to eliminate any air.

This will help the pears to cook evenly, and prevent any oxidization while they are cooking.

Simmer until the pears are just tender; carefully remove the pears from the liquid and place on a plate to cool. Reserve the poaching liquid.

When the liquid and pears are both cool enough, place the pears into the liquid, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to make the cake.

Turn the oven on to 350F. Line a 9" round springform pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the wet ingredients:

1/4 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup poaching liquid
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup olive oil

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup ground almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and gently press 8 pieces of the poached pear into the batter.

Bake until the cake is puffed up around the pears, golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. This took around 40 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool before carefully removing the ring from the springform pan.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar before serving.

Serve the cake with whipped cream. I added some of the cooled poaching liquid into the cream while it was whipping, and then folded some finely crumbled blue cheese into the cream.

  • Any nuts can be used in this cake; I think that toasted and ground hazelnuts would be great with the pears. I had almonds, so I used those. Don't be afraid to experiment with flavours.
  • The cake can be flavoured with lemon or orange zest, ground aniseed or cinnamon.
  • The pears don't have to be poached. It was a way to bring in another layer of flavour. Other fruits that can be used are apples, quince, peaches, plums or apricots. They can all be poached, or left unpoached, but thinly sliced and pushed into the batter before baking.
  • When making the caramel for poaching, be very careful to watch it as soon as the colour starts changing. As soon as the sugar starts to caramelize it heats up quickly and can turn from golden to burnt in the blink of an eye. When the caramel reaches the desired colour, add the water immediately to cool the caramel and stop it from continuing to cook. As long as the caramel is still hot it will continue to cook and darken.
  • If you are not comfortable making caramel, or want a different flavour there are so many options for poaching pears. A basic poaching liquid is sugar and water; use the amount of sugar that gives you the sweetness you desire. Add layers of flavour by using other liquids such as red or white wine; black tea such as Earl Grey or Chai; juice such as apple or cranberry. Add in spices...cinnamon sticks, cloves, slices of fresh ginger, orange or lemon rind, pink or black peppercorns, saffron.
  • It is important that the pears are poached until they are just tender, but still firm. Cooking them slowly allows the maximum amount of flavour from the poaching liquid to infuse the pears, without overcooking them.
  • The pears can be poached a day or two ahead, and stored in the poaching liquid, well covered.
  • These pears can be served as a dessert, without being put into the cake. Leave the pears in halves to poach, and fill the cavity with mousse to serve.
  •  If you wish to leave the pears whole for poaching, peel the pear and use a melon baller to scoop the core out from the bottom of the pear. This leaves a cavity for stuffing, and also allows the poaching liquid to infuse the pear from the inside as well as the outside. The pear can be filled with mousse before serving.
  • This cake will keep for 2 - 3 days, well wrapped. It is best served at room temperature.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Butter Chicken Lasagne

Butter chicken lasagne? Interesting, you might say...but this is a perfect fusion in my opinion. The spicy butter chicken sauce lends itself very well to being thickened and turned into a bechamel, add in some ricotta and spinach and layer it with noodles and the tandoori chicken and you have a perfect marriage.

Other than marinating the chicken the day before, this lasagne is no more work than making a regular lasagne, be it beef, chicken or vegetable. The amount of flavour that the spices deliver just raises it to another level.

I decided to make this as a way to use up some of the plain Greek yoghurt and the half container of ricotta cheese that were in the fridge. I used a small piece of soft goat cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated mozzarella as well.

Marinate the chicken the day before you are going to cook it. Place 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a dish, together with:

2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk together:

3/4 cup plain Greek yoghurt
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoon tandoori masala

Add this to the chicken thighs and mix to coat all of the chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat a deep pan, add a bit of olive oil, and sear both sides of the chicken.

Cover, turn the heat to low and allow the chicken to simmer until it is completely cooked.

Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside until it is cool. Reserve the liquid that is in the pan for the sauce.

In a clean pan, on medium high heat, wilt:

4 large handfuls of washed fresh spinach leaves

Add a bit of water if needed, to prevent the spinach from sticking to the pan.

Place the wilted spinach into a strainer to cool, and to remove some of the excess liquid.

To make the sauce, melt:

1/4 cup butter


1 small onion, finely diced.

Cook until the onion is soft.

Stir in:

2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Cook, stirring, until you smell the garlic and ginger. This should only take a few seconds.

Add the spices:

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.


1/3 cup flour

Cook, stirring, until you have a smooth paste. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Add to the reserved chicken cooking liquid:

1/4 cup tomato paste

Whisk to combine.

Add enough milk to bring the liquid to a total of:

2 1/4 cups

While whisking, gradually add the liquid to the pan, allowing it to come to a boil when all the liquid has been added.

Boil for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat.

Taste and add salt and pepper if needed

Cook 12 lasagne noodles, drain and cool under cold running water. Drain and set aside. I usually cook the noodles while I am making the sauce.

 In a  bowl, combine:

1/2 the sauce
1 cup ricotta cheese
the wilted spinach, excess liquid squeezed out and then chopped

In another bowl, combine:

8 of the cooked chicken thighs, chopped
1/2 the sauce

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Start assembling the lasagne by pouring a thin layer of whipping cream onto the bottom of a 9" X 13" ovenproof dish, just enough to coat the bottom and prevent the bottom layer of noodles from sticking.

Place 3 noodles on top of the whipping cream.

Spread half of the cheese mixture evenly over the noodles.

Place another layer of 3 noodles.

Evenly spread half of the chicken mixture over the noodles.

Repeat these two steps with the remaining noodles, sauce and chicken.

Crumble goat cheese and sprinkle mozzarella over the top of the lasagne.

Bake until hot in the centre, bubbling and golden on top. This should take about 45 minutes.

Allow the lasagne to rest for 5 - 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

  • If you do not have fenugreek seeds, omit them. They can be found at most small, ethnic stores. 
  • I make my garam masala and tandoori masala from a recipe I have. If you do not want to go to the trouble of buying all the spices, both are readily available in larger grocery stores, or again, in ethnic stores.
  • If you have leftover cooked chicken or turkey, you can chop it up and add it to the sauce instead of the tandoori chicken. This is a quick and easy way to make the dish; there will be a bit less depth of flavour, but it's still delicious. 
  • I froze the 4 chicken thighs that did not get used...I can use them as pizza toppings or wrap fillings another time.
  • The tanginess of the goat cheese is a good complement to the richness of the sauce and spices. I have used feta cheese when I have no goat cheese. You can also choose to use all mozzarella if you like.
  • The chicken can be grilled instead of cooked in a pan. You will not have the liquid to use in the sauce; use all milk or part milk and part chicken stock.
  • Frozen spinach can be used, defrost it and squeeze out the excess liquid. If left it will dilute the sauce and make it too runny during cooking.
  • I use lasagne noodles that require cooking before using. I use the time it takes for the water to come to a boil and the noodles to cook as my sauce and filling prep time. If you choose to use the ready-to-use noodles that do not require pre-cooking, you will need a runnier sauce, as these noodles tend to absorb liquid during cooking.
  • The sauce can be made without as much flour, or with no flour and using whipping cream instead of milk to make just a butter chicken sauce. Add the chicken thighs into the sauce and serve over rice.
  • The lasagne can be made in stages over a couple of days...chicken, sauce and fillings made as you have the time and then assembled and baked. It can also be assembled up to 2 days ahead and kept well wrapped in the refrigerator. Assembled lasagne can also be frozen, well wrapped, until needed. You can bake it from frozen, or defrost it before baking.