Thursday, June 24, 2010


I took a trip to the Carp Farmers Market this past weekend and came across a wonderful sheep cheese maker, right here in our own backyard. Back Forty Artisan Cheese in Lanark County. He makes four styles of cheese with sheep milk and I picked the one that mostly resembles feta cheese, Flower Station. And, of course, it's delicious.

I am more of a cow milk fan, but I do like firm sheep cheese and soft goat cheese, and neither should taste too "sheepy" or too "goaty", but have a tang and an earthiness and delicate floral flavours.

When it's too hot to cook, I love to eat something really simple and I find that tzatziki - made with yoghurt and cucumbers provides a cooling effect in the onslaught of hot summer days that have just passed. I'm not complaining, mind you, I love the heat!

My tzatziki is a little different from a traditional Greek yoghurt dip, I am sure. The flavours are similar, texture is similar, but it's just so much better than the dip you can buy in the store. I'll admit, you do need a little time, as the yoghurt has to sit in a strainer overnight to get the best texture, but make sure you do it, it's so unbelievably good, you won't even recognise the texture as the yoghurt as it presses itself into something so thick and creamy. 

I like mine with grilled pita bread, warm off the grill. You could also serve with vegetables, or like my husband ate it tonight, scooped on top of his grilled chicken breast.

Makes about 2 cups
perfected over many many years, but now amazingly good with the addition of Flower Station

1 large container natural/plain yoghurt* (about 650g)
1/2 english cucumber, shredded on large holes of box grater
125g feta cheese (I used the wedge of Flower Station)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
salt & pepper

Scoop yoghurt into a paper towel lined fine sieve. Traditionalists would say to use cheesecloth, but as long as you have decent papertowels (not dollar store) you should be OK. It works for me. Place sieve over a deep bowl, cover entire thing and leave to drain in the refrigerator overnight. If you have never done this before, you will be amazed at how much liquid actually comes out.

The next day, shred the cucumber and place into a clean tea towel, and squeeze as hard as you can to remove all the liquid. When you think you've squeezed enough, just do one more squeeze to be sure.

Transfer yoghurt to a medium sized bowl, add squeezed cucumber and remaining ingredients. Mix well to combine and season generously. Serve chilled.

*I like to use the full fat versions, and to be honest I have never used a low fat yoghurt, but you could try it.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Chocolate Ripple Cake

Local strawberries - who can resist that sweet smell on this first day of summer? The fragrance is irresistable, they look perfect, I cannot possibly walk past and leave a pint behind. There is just no way.

I don't really know where my love affair with the strawberry began. I am sure it was in fake flavoured strawberry ice cream, isn't every girls dream to eat only the pink stripe of the neapolitan tub without any other colours touching it?

Growing up, I think we only used to have strawberries on special occasions, and if my memory serves me correctly, you could only buy strawberries in the summertime. That sounds wierd now, because you can get strawberrie all year round. It doesn't make sense, but I'm sure it was true.

And, summertime was planting a garden with my dad, and I am sure we had strawberries in there somewhere.

Strawberries, in my mind, go best with chocolate and whipped cream (hmm..they also pair with with a tall bubbly glass of champagne), and this is a childhood dessert that was made with a package of Arnotts Chocolate Ripple Biscuits and whipped cream. I thought I would try to make it better with homemade dark chocolate cookies, sweet strawberries and freshly whipped cream. Be prepared though, this "cake" has to work it's magic overnight in the refrigerator. You will be amazed that one recipe of cookies (or one package) can turn into something so delightful.

Chocolate Cookies
Makes 18-20, depending on size of scoop
Adapted slightly from Hersheys

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine butter and sugar in large bowl and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla, and continue mixing until creamy. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture.
Drop 1oz scoops onto parchment lined cookie sheets and bake 8-12 minutes, or until just set. Remove from oven, cool 2 minutes on sheets and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

While cookies are cooling, finely dice up half a pint of strawberries (as small as you can, otherwise cutting this cake will be difficult).

When cookies are completely cooled, whip up 3 cups whipping cream with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar until medium peaks form. Set aside.

To assemble: you are basically sticking the cookies together sandwiched with whipped cream and strawberries to form a log (using about 12 of the cookies you baked).
Take one cookie, spread with about 1 & 1.2 tablespoons whipped cream, add about 1 tablespoon chopped strawberries and then sandwich with another cookie. Set on plate.
To the back of one cookie, add more cream and strawberries and sandwich on a third cookie. Kepp doing this until the log is formed, and using leftover cream, cover the entire log.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. Refriegerate until ready to serve.

To serve: garnish with additional strawberries and then slice the cake on a diagonal to get the "striped" look.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Greek Salad

It's lunchtime on Sunday, my husband is away and I am left with the child who won't eat anything but butter chicken, rice, milk and oatmeal. There's no way I am cooking today, so I have a choice of Kraft Dinner (definitely OK in some instances) or toss together something from ingredients in my fridge/pantry, of which I am trying to do more of these days. I saw a television ad that suggested we throw away half of what we actually buy, and sometimes, I am one of those people. It's awful to think of, really. All that good food getting thrown away simply because I was too lazy to eat or cook it.

To my surprise we have everything in our fridge necessary for an amazing Greek Salad - tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives and peppers. And then I look further and I find half a red onion and some fresh dill. Oh my, it's a great day!

I am not really a salad eater. I can think of nothing less enjoyable than a bowl full of "grass". I know, it's not grass, but come on, it's close enough :) Now, give me a salad full of "stuff" and I will happily munch away - hence the liking for a big bowl of fresh Greek Salad.
Dill was never a favourite herb of mine until I had tried it in Greek Salad. I always associated it with seafood and I am not a big seafood eater either. You know, maybe I had been eating it for years without realising that it was in the salad, but I don't think so. It was definitely the addition of a cook who I was working with years ago, that put me onto this gem. All the Greeks out there, I'm apologising if dill isn't traditional, but try it, it tastes delicious.

Greek Salad
makes 2 serves (able to be doubled, tripled or multiplied many times)

12 grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 English cucmber, sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/4 red pepper, chopped
1/4 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
50g feta cheese, cubed

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch each salt & pepper

Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl, toss to combine.
Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl, pour over salad and gently toss. Check for seasoning and serve.
If you are making this salad the night before, I suggest you keep the salad and the dressing separate, and only toss about 1/2 an hour prior to serving. I like the salad ingredients crisp and fresh, and I find that if they sit in the dressing too long the tomatoes and cucumbers especially, become a bit mushy.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

French Toast with Blueberries & Lemon Curd

It's almost the weekend, it's so close I can taste it. I have just come to the end of the most crazy week ever at work. It feels like I have been running non-stop for two weeks, and Saturday is my saving grace. Come on Saturday...I need a rest!
Dreaming ahead, most likely to Sunday, this is one of my ultimate breakfasts, or brunches, as we never really get around to eating a "cooked" breakfast until 11-ish.
I want to say I used fresh bread, but it's really stale bread with fresh lemon curd and blueberries simmered with sugar and poured over.
I remember a breakfast like this, one Sunday morning in Balmain (suburb of Sydney), and an amazing woman sang while she played the bass guitar. Absolutely beautiful. The food and the music. We used to go out a lot...before kids.
So now we bring the café home - start with the curd, then dip the toast and start to fry, and as that's cooking do a quick-mix of the blueberries, you can have it all done in less than an hour and then tell everyone how you slaved away for hours while they all slept.
This is just a collection of extremely simple recipes brought together to create a delicious meal. If you have the time, prepare the curd and the blueberry syrup the day before. The lemon curd and blueberry syrup will keep for two weeks, tightly covered in the refrigerator. So start today, and be ready for next weekend at the cottage.
If only my husband could prepare this for me and bring it to me with steaming I am really dreaming!

Lemon Curd
Makes almost 2 cups
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion (my go-to for simple, but wonderful, recipes)

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2/3 cup white sugar
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, from 2-3 lemons
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a heatproof bowl over simmering water, combine the eggs, yolks, sugar, zest and juice and cook, stirring frequently until curd has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. It should only take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir through butter and pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove lumps.   
Pour into small bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of curd (to prevent skin from forming) and refrigerate until chilled.

Blueberry Syrup
Makes 2 serves
Made up on the fly - today!

3/4 cup blueberries. fresh or frozen
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water (extra)

Place blueberries, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, Cook, stirring, until blueberries have popped and sugar has dissolved. Simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Add cornstarch slurry and return to boil. Serve warm.

French Toast
Makes 2 serves - but easily doubled
Just a recipe I have used for years - not sure anymore where it came from, but if it's yours, let me know

3 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 pieces thick cut day-old bread
2 teaspoons butter

In large flat-bottomed bowl, combine the eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. 
Heat non-stick pan with half of butter over medium heat. When butter has melted, dip bread slices into egg mixture and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes each side. Repeat with remaining bread. If your pan is large enough, you can cook 2 slices at a time.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Apricot Almond Tart

Apricots just scream SUMMER! I don't know if it's official apricot season but these are in the stores now, looking ripe and luscious and ready to eat. I found my apricots at Farm Boy, but then all the best produce in Ottawa is to be found there. I don't even find it more expensive for produce there, and even when you think you're paying more, the quality always rises to the occasion.

I seem to be in pie / tart / pastry mood lately. I don't know why, I mean, I love to bake and to me showing off perfectly beautiful fruit or vegetables or bacon just seem to taste better to me wrapped in buttery pastry. And, pastry is not tricky to make, it's just about being respectful to the dough, whatever dough you are working with at the time. Work quickly, and keep it as chilled as possible. Most are pretty forgiving, the only one you have to surrender to is filo, but even after a while with some practice, you can master the filo dough.

This recipe is a touch "involved", so read through, give yourself some time and then enjoy the amazing results. My friend described the filling as almost a pecan pie type of filling, whereas I thought I had undercooked it at first. Oops!

Apricot Almond Tart
Makes one 8-inch tart
Only very very slightly adapted from Marta Stewart Living, June 2010 edition

3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons ground almonds, toasted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 large egg yolk
pinch salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light con syrup
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons amaretto (or other almond flavoured liqueur)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2lbs apricots, halved and pitted
icing sugar to dust
whipped cream, to serve

To make crust: Beat butter and icing sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add flour, ground almonds yolk and pinch of salt, mix until dough comes together. I admit, I added a splash of ice water here as I got impatient and I didn't want to overwork the dough. Press into the bottom and sides of an 8" fluted tart pan with removable base and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325F.

To make filling: heat butter in a saucepan over medium high heat until browned 3-4 minutes. There will be floaty bits in the butter - that's OK. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat yolks, corn syrup and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in browned butter (with floaty bits), amaretto, cream and vanilla. Mixture will be thick, but pourable. Mine was totally pourable, not really that thick at all.

Transfer tart shell onto a baking sheet. Pour in filling to reach halfway up the sides. Bake until crust is golden brown and crisp, and centre is set but slightly soft, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

When tart is cooled, working in a circle and pressing into the filling, top tart with apricot halves. Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.