Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

Puff pastry is my new nemesis.

This was supposed to be a ridiculously easy recipe — based on the “fake instead of really bake” principle of entertaining. I don’t believe in cheating, but I do believe that sometimes simplifying is a good way to go … especially when hosting a party. And this had all the things I like assembled together: puff pastry, goat cheese, roasted asparagus.

And yet, not a triumph.

Tart corner

I had my suspicions this wasn’t going to go right from the point of attempting to roll out the thawed pastry. Instead of a nice oblong rectangle, I got a wiggly-edged square that was about half the size of the crust in the photo ripped out of the magazine. No problem, I thought, I’ll make two tarts. It will be daintier, I figured.

After my wiggly-edged oblong was rolled out, I placed it on the parchment-paper-lined pan and docked the hell out of it with a fork. Theoretically, that should have made the centre of the tart not puff quite so much. Emphasis on theoretically.

After 10 minutes of baking, I took a peek into the oven only to be horrified by the mound of pastry puffing up into a golden pillow. NO! I docked you! I prickled your pastry skin with my four-tined fork! Get down! Actually, in reality, I’m pretty sure I just swore, then pulled the damn thing out of the oven and de-puffed it with the aforementioned fork, shattering the pastry.

Then came the attempt to smear on the layer of softened goat cheese. A bit more complicated now that the outer crust was in shards. On the upside, once I managed to successfully get the cheese on, no one could sense the puff pastry disaster that lay underneath. I added the lovely green spears of asparagus, some lemon zest and put it back on the oven, at the same time retrieving the second wobbly oblong that had also grown into a big puffed pillow. And repeat.

Mid-tart

As I assembled the second tart, I felt the urge to check the progress on the first only to discover the edges were starting to move beyond golden and into burnt territory. Gah! The asparagus still hadn’t fully roasted, but the pastry was cooking much too fast. I turned the temperature down and adjusted the rack higher and hoped for the best.

However, for all the fuss puff pastry involves, there is one undeniable benefit. Because it’s all thin layers, a solution for the slightly-burnt-bottom-problem was immediately apparent. With a little careful knife work, I pried off the blackened bottom layer. And, lo, all was right.

I don’t think I’ll be attempting this one again. At least not until I get better practiced with the puff pastry. But I would suggest more lemon zest. Also, I squeezed over some lemon juice when the tarts had just come out of the oven, which I think helped add some zing and slightly cut the richness of the goat cheese.

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

The recipe comes courtesy from Real Simple magazine.


Asparagus Tart

  • 1 sheet frozen puff-pastry, thawed (apparently overnight in the fridge is best)
  • 1 10-ounce log goat cheese
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Roll out the pastry into a 10″x18″ rectangle. Leaving a one-inch border, prick the surface of the pastry all over with a fork. (If this works for anyone else out there, please let me know.) Bake about 15 minutes or until golden, then remove from oven. Spread the cheese over the pastry. Lay the asparagus on top of the cheese. Brush with the oil and sprinkle with the zest salt and pepper. Bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

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Evil blog Brownies

I’m starting to think this blog could be very dangerous.

It used to be that when I had strange cravings for late-night sweets or snacks, I could resist them until the temptation passed. But on Thursday night, when an intense and undeniable craving for brownies overwhelmed me, I had a supposedly legitimate reason to fulfill it: I could make a blog entry out of it.

I fear I set a dangerous precedent that night.

Plate of Brownies

When I decided to make the Red Velvet Cake oh-so-many weeks ago, I bought a tin of cocoa — the only one I could find besides the generic grocery brand. Back at home, I discovered that at some point in recent history I had already purchased a tin of Fry’s Cocoa, presumably when I was on some kick to make something chocolate-y and then never followed through. I buried the tin in my baking cupboard — which is, let’s face it, not the most organized space — and completely forgot about it. Until I came home with the second tin.

Brownies seemed like a logical thing to do with an overwhelming supply of cocoa. And, as the snow fell outside (in May for goodness sake), I thought a little baking may be in order.

The best part about the recipe (compliments of the back of the Fry’s Cocoa tin — why research if you don’t have to?) is that I didn’t have to wait for butter to soften as the recipe calls for it to be melted. Virtually instantaneous satisfaction could be achieved!

A little sugar, some vanilla and flour, thoroughly sifted cocoa, eggs and I was good to go. I also had in my cupboard some halved pecans, which I ended up breaking into smaller pieces and throwing into the batter for a little contrast. I didn’t even bother breaking out my hand mixer for this and barely worked out my arm mixing everything together because it took so little effort.

The batter

The aftermath

I should have read the recipe all the way through, however, because by the time I got to the fact that four eggs were going into the batter I realized I probably should have halved it. Instead of a nice little pan of brownies, I ended up with a 9″ x 13″ tray of them.

I was too lazy to wander out in the snow for the vanilla ice cream the brownies so badly wanted to be paired with. But, lo, what is this in my fridge? The quarter-cup dregs of whipping cream? Hello freshly-whipped- cream puffed into a little cloud to sit atop my fudgey brownie.

Brownie and whipped cream

As it was, I didn’t end up having to eat the entire pan myself. I was unexpectedly back at work on my day off the next day and my plans to make cookies for an event that night were dashed. But showing up with a plate of brownies was definitely the next best thing.

Fry’s Fudgey Brownies

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup Fry’s Cocoa (but, presumably, other cocoas would also work)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional, obviously)

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Remove from heat. Stir in cocoa. Blend in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Blend in dry ingredients and nuts. Pour batter into greased 13x9x2″ rectangular baking pan. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until done. Cool.

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Whiskey Sours

I drank my first Whiskey Sour at the behest of my friend Julie who had spent two years in Ireland where she developed a taste for the amber liquor. That tall drink sipped in the plush lounge of the Four Seasons in Vancouver (two nights of luxury while on assignment in my hometown. L’Occitaine products in the bathroom, three soft pillows on the bed and turn-down service; this is exactly why I never stay at hostels) sparked what would become a several-year quest to find the perfect replica.

There is something deliciously retro about a Whiskey Sour. Makes me want to sing Danke Schoen while prancing around in heels and a frilly, white apron. (And a dress, people, what kind of blog do you think this is?)

I’ve had pitiful recreations at some bars where the bartender believes mixing whiskey and lime-ade will fulfill the need. May I just say, No. No. No. No.

The ingredients

It seems the secret is to have one at a hotel bar and every time I’ve done this, it has been successful. Still, I wanted to give them a try at home, so I was ecstatic when the Barefoot Contessa included a recipe in her latest book, Barefoot Contessa at Home. Her recipe calls specifically for Jack Daniel’s and who am I to doubt Ina? But when I made a batch, I didn’t love them and I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t as enchanted with Whiskey Sours as I once had been.

But I was determined to make them for my pre-blog launch on Saturday night. (And then I got impatient, launched the blog and made it a post-launch.) Another friend kindly offered to donate a half bottle of Gibson’s Whiskey that she had lying around and didn’t think she’d drink on her own, so I decided to make it what that.

I nearly got a hand cramp from reaming the eight limes and six lemons required to make two cups of fresh-squeezed citrus and I was very grateful I had no paper cuts. But it was beyond worth it. Once combined with the sugar syrup and the smooth whiskey, these drinks were fantastic. I think my guests and I made it through the entire batch in the first 30 minutes of the party.

The Aftermath

For the record, I didn’t bother with the cocktail shaker step because I made a pitcher of them and had kept everything in the fridge until just before serving. No one seemed to mind, but I bet ice cold would be even better. In fact, writing about this is tempting me to go squeeze out the rest of the lemons and limes in the fridge for another round.

The recipe comes from Barefoot Contessa at Home.

Fresh Whiskey Sours

  • 3/4 cup Whiskey (use what you like, though my friend Julie — to whom I turn for all things Whiskey — recommends Jameson or Bushmills.)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
  • 2/3 cup sugar syrup

Combine the whiskey, lemon juice, lime juice and syrup. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and fill two-thirds full with the cocktail mixture. Shake for 30 seconds and pour into glasses. Add a maraschino cherry and serve ice cold.

Note: To make sugar syrup, put 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Chill thoroughly before using.

Serves four (apparently).

Whiskey Sours

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Tuna Melt

I don’t like mayonnaise. And, as a rule, I don’t love tuna. But there is something about the combination of the two atop a doughy bagel and under a cap of bubbling orange cheddar that really turns my crank.

Tuna Melts

When leaving work tonight, debating whether or not to get take-out or try to make something fabulous out of the cooked chicken breast, lettuce and leftover red velvet cake still in the fridge, I was overcome by an undeniable desire for a tuna melt. It’s quick comfort food made from things I generally have on hand (though it did require a stop for bagels) and consumed my thoughts all the way home

No official recipe here; it’s pretty straightforward. But the results are delicious.

The Ingredients

Tuna Melt

  • bagel, your choice (I prefer Everything Bagels)
  • mayonnaise
  • celery
  • can of tuna
  • salt and pepper
  • cheddar

Drain the can of tuna and add diced celery, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Spoon onto cut bagel and top with slices of cheddar. Pop in the oven set to a high temperature (450 degrees or so). Wait for the cheese to bubble and then pull out. Careful, they will be piping hot.

I usually toast the bagel too before adding the tuna mix. It keeps it a bit crusty, I believe.

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Rosemary Cashews

I was doing my taxes tonight — one day before the deadline, which must be a record for me — which is apropos of nothing other than my mind was wandering away from my CPP contributions and more towards what else I could be doing if I wasn’t being forced to do paperwork … even if that paperwork would lead to an extra couple of hundred dollars in my bank account.

Last week I bought a package of rosemary and some bulk cashews thinking I might find some time to put together one of my favourite snack recipes. Somehow over the course of the past several days things got pretty busy, but I couldn’t keep putting it off for fear the lovely green needles of rosemary would blacken and wither in my crisper. So, as I signed off on my tax return, I decided it was time to whip up a little bonus.

The Ingredients

Rosemary Cashews have rapidly become my go-to hostess gift since I began making them a few years ago. They have been to book club and video nights, served as work snacks and traveled all the way to Malta as a small, homemade gift for friends hosting me there. (They were such a hit, we made a bastardized version for Canadian Thanksgiving, in which my friends invited 10 for turkey dinner by the pool.)

I love the play of salty and sweet and the hit of heat, combined with the herby woodiness of the rosemary. Plus they’re ridiculously easy to make.

With all due respect to Ina Garten — my cooking guru, the Barefoot Contessa — I generally not-quite-double the coating to ensure the cashews are thoroughly covered. (Hey, the nuts are just the carriers of the rosemary and sugar, in this girl’s eyes. And yes, this may make them a little bit more slippery, but isn’t that why cocktail napkins were invented?)

I also generally use salted butter because that’s what I have sitting around and can’t be bothered to invest in unsalted just for one or two recipes. As a result I cut back on the salt. Oh, and I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to heat, so I don’t add all the cayenne she calls for.

Rosemary Cashews

Here is the recipe is as it stands in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa in Paris.

Rosemary Cashews

  • 1 pound roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cashews out on a sheet pan. Toast in the oven until warm, about five minutes. (Full disclosure here: I cheat at this part and just use a dry frying pan on low heat to heat up the nuts.)

In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and butter. Thoroughly toss the warm cashews with the spiced butter and serve warm. (Though, let’s be honest here, they are just fine at room temperature too.)

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Southern Comfort

Red Velvet Cake is a southern U.S. tradition that is so popular it can even be found in the cake mix aisle. I can’t date when my obsession with this cake began, though I think it first came to my attention while watching Steel Magnolias where the groom’s cake was shaped like an armadillo and it looked like it was bleeding when someone cut into it.

And I’m also not sure what the reason behind this obsession is. Must be something about the virginal white icing hiding the slutty red interior and all its metaphors.

Essentially, it’s a chocolate layer cake infused with red food colouring that turns the cake into a shade of crimson that plays against the white, cream cheese icing.

Red Velvet Cake

But I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to take this on for a dinner party Sunday night.

1) It’s the first cake I’ve ever baked that did not involve me opening a box and praising Betty Crocker.

2) It involved at least 30 minutes worth of research on dutch processed cocoa vs. natural cocoa. (Nutshell: dutch processed is treated to neutralize its acidity, so has to be used in recipes that call for baking powder as it may not react with baking soda.)

3) It also involved a further 30 minutes of research to figure out whether the cocoa I bought for this (Fry’s) was or was not dutch processed, since it was not indicated anywhere on the can. For the record, it is.

On the upside, attempting this cake also gave me an excuse to buy some new toys for my kitchen: an offset spatula and two new cake pans.

I was initially hesitant to make this cake, having never baked one that didn’t come out of a box. This hesitation was amplified after I went out on a blind date with a man who considered himself quite a baker. While the meringues he brought to munch on over coffee were good, I thought it was a bit presumptuous when he tried to talk me out of my red velvet plan.

“You’ve never made a cake?”

And then: “You should make brownies. There’s a great recipe by Alton Brown, just cut back the sugar to half a cup.”

Brownies, he said, were good and easy and hard to screw up.

“You don’t want to make your friends your guinea pigs,” he added.

That was pretty much the end of the date. There won’t be a second one.

And, after that, I was much more determined to master the Red Velvet.

I won’t call it a resounding success — as kind as my friends are for saying it was delicious — but it was a worthy first effort. And, frankly, anything coated in that much cream cheese frosting can’t be all bad. I learned a few things, including the need to sift all the dry ingredients together or suffer the consequences. In this case, that meant cocoa swirls throughout the not-quite-flaming red layers; and that a crumb coat is definitely the way to go when dealing with such an intensely coloured batter.

The Ingredients


Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp. liquid food colouring
  • 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. (And ensure the cocoa is evenly distributed.)

Beat butter until soft, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Add vanilla.

In a measuring cup whisk the buttermilk and red food colouring. (I used food colour gels here, so added two tbsp. of water and mixed in the gel, adding more and more until the desired colour.)

Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the butter and eggs, ending on the flour.

Mix in small cup the vinegar and baking soda. Watch it fizz, then add to the batter.

Pour the batter into the two pans and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Let cool in wire rack in the pans for 10 minutes, then out of the pans until cool.

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla. (Prepare to be coated in icing sugar cloud.) Beat to combine.

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Welcome…

Ah the inaugural post. In which I am supposed to tempt you to stick around, check back and become loyal readers. All I can really say is: I’m not a professional cook or pastry chef, but I’m pretty passionate about food; I not-so-secretly love to spend time in the kitchen (is it wrong that I consider this a favourite pastime?); and my cookbook cupboard is fairly exploding from all the books I have jammed in there. (One recent — and failed — New Year’s resolution was that I had to cook one recipe out of all my books before I was allowed to buy any new ones.)

This blog is going to be about trusted recipes and experiments. Favourite kitchen appliances or good meals had while on my travels may also make guest appearances.

Enjoy!

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