August 29, 2012

Buttercup Squash and Maple Syrup Tarte Tatin

I know it's not fall quite yet but let's face it, September is just around the corner. And this morning, the chill in the wind and the deep golden glow of the sun conveyed a gentle reminder that summer will soon be coming to a close. I hope you'll excuse me getting a little ahead of things with this autumnal buttercup squash recipe, but fall is my favourite time of year, especially when it comes to cooking since the earth provides such tasty delights in this season.

I've already told you about my obsession with Tarte Tatin, a classic French dessert that consists of caramelized apples in an upside-down pie. Once baked, the pie is flipped over and voila. When you've been bitten by the tatin bug, it's a little hard to stop and I love experimenting with savoury vegetable tatins (you may recall my Leek Tatin recipe from a previous post). Because of the sweetness of buttercup squash and maple syrup, this particular one rides that fine line between dessert and dinner. It could go either way really, but I've added fresh sage to the syrup because I imagine it as an accompaniment to a Thanksgiving or autumn harvest dinner. Perhaps as a side to roasted chicken. In any case, it makes a wonderful alternative to puréed squash.

The best thing about this recipe is its simplicity. You only need 4 ingredients & a batch of your favourite pie crust. Tatins are traditionally baked right in the skillet but after some hair-raising experiences where the darling tatin remained firmly engaged to the pan and did not invert, I prefer the safety of a pie plate and good old parchment paper, as you can see in the video. I still always hold my breath when I flip a tatin, but it's like Christmas morning when you get to peel back the paper and reveal what's underneath. Oooh and ahhh. I hope you'll try it. Bon appétit!

1/2 cup maple syrup
1 to 2 teaspoons of minced fresh sage
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 medium to large sized buttercup squash
1 batch of your favourite pie crust

Cut the squash in half and roast cut side down on oiled baking sheet at 375F for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender but still holding its shape. (Or you can peel and cut the squash before roasting if you prefer). Meanwhile, simmer maple syrup in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add chopped sage and butter. Once butter is melted immediately pour into a buttered pie plate that is lined with a buttered piece of parchment paper. Once the squash has cooled, cut into pieces and peel the skin. Arrange the squash pieces on top of the syrup, rounded side facing down. Roll out the pie dough to size of pie dish and place on top of squash pieces, tucking in the edges all around. Bake in 350F oven for about 30 minutes, or until pie dough is slightly golden. Remove from oven and immediately invert onto plate. Peel away parchment paper and serve.

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August 23, 2012

Blackberry Swirl Poundcake Perfumed with Tulsi Basil

Photo by Katrina Ludlow

Making this cake, I thought of my stepdad because blackberry picking is his favourite summer sport. In the month of August, he'll be gone for hours at a time, lost in the bushes and in his thoughts, meditating in the sunshine and brambles, returning home with mountains of the little black jewels. He likes to eat them on his cereal or yoghurt but he also freezes a lot of them. So whenever I come home for a visit, even if it's in the dead of winter, I can pop open the freezer and have a little taste of summer in the Gaspereau Valley.

It took some courage to pick the blackberries to make this cake. Right now, we are house-sitting in the tick-mecca of mid-coast Maine, notorious for the small lyme disease carrying deer ticks. Yikes. The first morning we were here, I went out to pick just a quick cupful of blackberries for my breakfast smoothie and returned 5 minutes later with 2 deer ticks on me. So I've gone out picking since that first morning but each time more cautiously and less enthusiastically than the time before. And I've returned each time with both blackberries AND ticks. So I'm putting my lofty goals for blackberry jam & pies on hold until I find a less tick-prone patch. At least I got what I needed for this cake, and I'm glad I did. This one is a keeper.

This summer I've fallen in love with tulsi. Do you know it? Also known as sacred basil, it's used in India in Ayurvedic medicine and Hindu rituals. Herbalists love it because of its numerous medicinal properties. We planted some tulsi in our garden this year and it turned into a giant bushy patch whose fragrance sends me over the moon every time I walk by. When I'm working in the garden and starting to feel tired and achy, I just walk over, stick my face in the flowers and inhale deeply. The bees are in agreement with me on this, they have been hovering over it ever since it's been in flower.

I had been dreaming of capturing the intoxicating perfume of tulsi in a cake and when I saw this recipe for blackberry swirl pound cake, I knew it was going to be the perfect marriage of flavours. When I chopped the tulsi basil and added it to cake, its aroma mingling with the smell of the vanilla batter and blackberries almost shot me straight up to heaven. I realize not everyone has easy access to Tulsi, so if you don't, I would recommend just using a teaspoon or two of your favourite herb in the cake batter instead. Italian basil would work well, I'm sure, as would lemon balm or lavender. If you're not feeling as herb-obsessed as I am, I'm quite certain that a simple blackberry swirl pound cake will be exquisite on its own.

(Based on this Martha Stewart recipe)

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup blackberries
1 cup + 3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs, whisked
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream or yoghurt (I used half cream, half kefir)
1 tbsp finely chopped Tulsi basil (or your favourite herb)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a standard bread loaf pan (I used a square pan) and dust with a little flour to prevent cake from sticking. In a blender or food processor, puree the blackberries and sugar with the 3 tbsp of sugar. In a bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking powder. In an another bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, and tulsi and incorporate fully. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream / yoghurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Transfer half the batter into your cake pan, creating a slight indentation in the centre with slightly raised edges. Pour about half of your blackberry puree in here, being careful to contain the puree if possible so it won't touch the edges of the cake pan too much (otherwise it might burn and make it hard to remove the cake). Top with remaining batter and add the rest of the puree. With a sharp knife, swirl the puree and batter to create an attractive pattern. Bake until golden on top and a toothpick should come out clean (aside from a bit of puree on it). This will take about 1 1/4 hour. Remove the cake, let it cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then remove and let it cool completely before slicing it. Enjoy!

August 16, 2012

Garlic Dill Green Beans with Dijon Vinaigrette

Pulling a big bulb of garlic out of the ground is right up there on my list of life's most satisfying moments.

We're a little on the late side harvesting ours so a few cloves were busting out of their protective shells, but overall it was a very successful harvest. And this garlic is a little special too because my boyfriend and I planted it together shortly after we met for the first time, last fall. So it's romantic garlic, ooh lala! We planted 2 varieties: Georgian Crystal and German White. My friend Sara who was visiting (good timing Sara!) gave us a hand with it all and took this photo of us beaming with pride after a long day in the sun.

Personally, I can barely function in a kitchen without garlic and I refuse to buy the stuff that's been shipped all the way from China, so I was pretty stoked when I saw our small mountain of garlic heads. I have a feeling it will easily last us all year, until our next harvest. 

Aside from the garlic, pretty much all of our meals are coming from straight out of the garden these days which is such a joy. 

Since the green beans are in full swing, I was planning to make canned dilly beans with them but my dill seed heads aren't quite ready yet, so I sautéed these ones in some of that freshly harvested garlic with butter and some late-planted radishes, garnished with fresh dill. Nothing too ground-breaking here, but I thought I'd share this simple taste of summer with you. Everything that went in that pan is from our garden (except the olive oil and butter).
Garlic Dill Beans with a Dijon Vinaigrette

Around 1/2 pound green beans
6 cloves of garlic (or 1 big head)
1 shallot (or onion)
1 small bunch of radishes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Dijon Vinaigrette
1 tbsp whole grain dijon
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Snap the ends off the beans and cut in half or thirds, depending on how long your beans are. Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Blanch the beans for 3 minutes or until deep green but still crunchy. Drain and set aside. In a pan, sautée the shallots in the olive oil until golden. Add the sliced radishes, garlic, beans, and butter. Salt and pepper generously. Sautée until the beans reach the desired texture. Test them as you cook! I like mine well-done but with a light crunch left in them. Remove from heat, toss with dill and vinaigrette. (Or serve vinaigrette separately). Serve hot or cold.

August 11, 2012

Candy-dipped Chocolate Ice Cream Cups

"The sincere friends of this world are as ship lights in the stormiest of nights."
                                                                                                                                                        -Giotto di Bondone

It's a gray rainy weekend here on the East Coast so I thought I'd put a little colour out there by sharing one of my sister's recent sprightly concoctions: chocolate ice cream cups. A great activity for kids on a rainy day (including the big kids). Leave it to Ariell to make this treat no, not out of plain old regular brown chocolate, but bold purple chocolate dipped in multicoloured candy sprinkles. That girl knows how to have fun. Seriously. And man do I miss her these days. 

She made these recently with her loyal sidekick Melissa and luckily for me (and you), they documented the whole whimsical adventure and allowed me to share it with you here. 

But before we get started, let me just tell you a little bit more about this dynamic duo. My sister is a cook extraordinaire and I already told you a little about her magical ways in my post about her Butternut-Peanut-Coconut soup recipe last fall. At 12 years old, she was already running her own business, selling her baked goods at our local farmer's market and over the years, her love of food and cooking has only grown. Recently she started a catering company called Edible Art and she also runs a beautiful little cafe in Newport Landing Nova Scotia. Her friend Melissa is a magnificent photographer and the genius behind Raven Dawn Photography and together, these two girls are unstoppable. This winter they went to Hawaii and had the time of their lives. Their friendship is one of those that spills out joy all around and makes even the gumpiest person crack a smile. When I saw these photos of their ice cream cup-making adventure, I wanted to share them with you all. So here's how you make them.

Step 1: Blow up some balloons, as big as you want your bowls to be. Small water balloons work well.
Step 2: Melt the chocolate. Ideally, it should be tempered, which you can read all about here.
Step 3: Once the chocolate is cooled to around 90 F (32 C), dip the balloons in.
Step 4: Dip in candy sprinkles.
Step 5: Put a dollop of chocolate on a baking sheet and put the balloon on it.
Step 6: Pierce your balloon and discard it.
Step 7: Fill with your favourite ice cream and share with someone you love.

And in case you want a little extra instruction, here's a wicked little video from The Chocolate Addict, showing the whole process. Enjoy!

August 01, 2012

Basil Hazelnut Chocolate Cake

Kitchen Vignettes is 1 year old!

Exactly one year ago today, while on vacation, I succumbed to the crazy urge to start a video food blog. I had been it putting off / trying my best to talk myself out of it because I didn't need yet another distraction keeping me from working on my master's thesis. But when a little bird (in the form of a very handsome young man) suggested that blogging could be a sketchbook of sorts for my thesis (which happens to be a film about food), that was all the rationale I needed, and off I went with my first post & video about garlic scape pesto

Well, a year and several recipes have passed since that first post, and despite my thesis not being much further ahead than it was at this time last year (although it's very much in the works, I promise), I have gained so much from this little blogging adventure! This has become a cherished space where I can express myself and play and share the stories behind the foods I love. Most importantly, it's been an opportunity to connect more deeply with family and friends over our shared love of eating, and to meet so many wonderful new friends: bloggers, writers, farmers, cooks, gourmands... both in person and virtually. I have been astounded by the encouragement, warmth, and enthusiasm with which Kitchen Vignettes has been received, and by the incredible thrill I experience from sharing recipes and stories with you all. Your comments and suggestions are always so informative, inspiring, and fun to read. From meeting superstar gardeners like Tonya, to connecting with readers in Spain, to learning about wild edibles, to sharing one of my mom's most magical holiday recipes, to going to New York and meeting a fabulous bunch of fellow food lovers at Saveur Magazine's headquarters, what an incredibly amazing year it's been! Here's to celebrating good food and meeting many new faces in this second year of blogging. 

To celebrate the occasion, I want to share one of my favourite summer recipes: basil hazelnut chocolate cake. Years ago, my mom found this recipe in a little basil cookbook (whose title I sadly can't recall), and since she was a passionate basil grower (one year she grew 15 varieties of basil!), we used to enjoy this cake every summer, made with freshly harvested fragrant basil straight from her garden. This cake is more of a torte really. It's moist and rich, with ground hazelnuts and only 2 tablespoons of flour, which can easily be substituted for additional ground hazelnuts to make a gluten-free, flourless version. Frothy egg whites lighten up the density of the chocolate batter and the basil sings through and tickles the palate. In the past, I have been known to throw in a dash of cayenne pepper which gives this cake an added air of mystery. Ooh la la. I like to serve it with a chocolate ganache, a sprinkle of icing sugar, some fresh basil leaves, and edible flowers if available. A dollop of basil-infused whipped cream never hurts either ;-)


8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I like to use 4 oz unsweetened and 4 oz bittersweet)
6 oz. butter (3/4 cup)
1 cup finely minced basil (handle basil with care, it's delicate... for a primer on how to properly chop it, click here)
4 eggs
2/3 cup cane sugar
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and ground
2 tbsp. flour (you can use gluten-free flour mix)

Heat oven to 350 F and lightly toast the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet (about 10 minutes). Allow to cool fully and then grind in a coffee grinder. They should form a coarse "flour". 

Grease an 8-inch cake pan and lightly dust it with flour.  Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, remove from heat and add minced basil. Mix well and cool. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture forms pale yellow silky ribbons when the beaters are lifted. Incorporate into chocolate mixture and add the hazelnuts and flour.  Mix gently but well. Beat egg whites to peaks, add remaining sugar and beat until stiff. Gently and gradually fold into chocolate mixture. Mix delicately, until fully incorporated. Immediately pour into prepared pan and bake in 350 F oven for about 35 minutes or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan, on a wire rack. To serve, invert cake and cover with a chocolate ganache if you wish (see how to make ganache here). Serve with sprigs of basil and anything else that strikes your fancy! (Whipped cream with a splash of Frangelico and purple basil for instance...)