Classic Butter Tarts

I have to confess there is nothing particularly innovative about my butter tart recipe, although many tasters have declared them the ‘best ever’. Perhaps it’s because I roll out my pastry between sheets of parchment, which keeps it from getting overhandled and tough. Or maybe it’s because I carefully toast the pecans ahead of time to give them more flavour. My kids and I would agree that it’s likely because I usually omit raisins. Maybe it’s the shot of bourbon I sometimes add to the filling for a great flavour kick. I would also suggest that it helps that I prefer the pastry a little bit on the thick side, to better encase the rich, gooey filling. I am not sure why these are so irresistible, but I know my family and I just love this version.

Flaky pastry and rich, gooey filling make these buttertarts simple yet perfect.

Flaky pastry and rich, gooey filling make these buttertarts simple yet perfect.

Ingredients

  • 1 batch (single large pie crust) pastry (or 12 purchased frozen 3″ / 7.5 cm tart shells)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup (70 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (215 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) light cream (half-and-half) (10% butterfat)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) toasted, chopped pecans or walnuts or 1/2 cup raisins

Method

  • Roll out the pastry between two sheets of parchment paper (this way you don’t have to add any extra flour to keep it from sticking to your rolling pin).
  • Slip the flattened pastry into the fridge for 5 minutes to chill, then lay on work surface. Remove top sheet of parchment and gently place it back on top of the pastry, then flip the whole thing over and remove the other sheet of parchment, setting it aside.
  • Using a 4 to 4.5 inch circle (a bowl, plastic container, large mug, etc.), trace circles with the tip of a sharp knife on the rolled, chilled pastry. Gently lift the circles and press them into the compartments of a regular sized muffin tin.
  • Reroll the pastry scraps as needed to get 12 tart shells.
  • Chill the filled muffin tin in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. If using premade frozen tart shells, do not thaw before filling.
  • Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
  • Scatter toasted nuts and/or raisins in the bottom of the tart shells.
  • Make the filling by cracking the eggs into a medium sized saucepan then lightly whisking them.
  • Whisk in the butter, sugar, and cream.
  • Place on medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for one minute after it starts bubbling vigorously then remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
  • Pour the hot filling into a heatproof jug (a 2 cup glass measure works well) and then carefully pour the filling into the tart shells to just below the top edge of the pastry.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 – 18 minutes or until the pastry has nicely browned and the filling is set.
  • Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack. Do not be tempted to pull the tarts out of the muffin pan right away; they need time to cool down and firm up.
  • Once pan is cool to the touch, remove butter tarts and let cool completely on wire rack before devouring.
While you might want to eat these yummy tarts right out of the oven, they need time to cool and firm up.

While you might want to eat these yummy tarts right out of the oven, they need time to cool and firm up.

Makes 12 irresistable butter tarts.

 

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Scalloped Potatoes with cream cheese and chives

I have always wanted to love scalloped potatoes. Growing up, the ones I tasted – my mom’s, my aunts’ and others – were good, but not spectacular. Sometimes the onions didn’t seem to be cooked enough, sometimes the sauce was too thick, or sometimes there wasn’t enough sauce. I’ve tried many different recipes over the years, and tasted many prepared by others, but I just didn’t find a version that I truly craved. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I decided to overhaul my basic recipe, which was adequate but not awesome. The game changer? Cream cheese. Oh, yeah. Creamy, cheesy deliciousness makes these scalloped potatoes totally crave-able and no more difficult to prepare than the standard cheeseless version. You can make them in a larger casserole dish, or, for a prettier presentation, use smaller oven-safe dishes or ramekins.

Adding cream cheese and herbs to the sauce makes these scalloped potatoes super delicious.

Adding cream cheese and herbs to the sauce makes these scalloped potatoes super delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons (37 mL) flour
  • 2 cups (500 mL) milk
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) each salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cream cheese
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) minced chives
  • 1 pound (454 grams) potatoes (I like Russet or Yukon Gold)

Method

  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add flour and stir well as it cooks for 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk, about 1/3 cup (75 mL) at a time, whisking well after each addition. The sauce should be smooth and will start to thicken as it cooks.
  • Add salt and pepper and continue whisking, letting sauce cook for about 3 – 4 minutes.
  • Add mustard and whisk to blend, then add cream cheese and whisk as it melts. Do not worry if you can see some lumps of cheese; they will melt as the potatoes cook.
  • Add the diced onion and cook the sauce for 3 minutes more. Stir in the minced chives and remove from heat while you prepare the potatoes.
  • Scrub potatoes but don’t peel them. Slice thinly (1/4 inch or 6mm is ideal) using a sharp knife or mandoline.
  • Lightly grease your casserole dish(es) with butter.
  • Layer the potatoes in the dish, overlapping slices.
To ensure even cooking, lay the thinly sliced potatoes in layers, slightly overlapping the slices.

To ensure even cooking, lay the thinly sliced potatoes in layers, slightly overlapping the slices.

  • Top each layer of potatoes with enough sauce to just cover them. Don’t worry that the sauce has become thick as it stands; it will thin out when baked.
  • The casserole dish(es) can be covered tightly and refrigerated at this point for up to 48 hours before baking.
You can see the sauce has lumps of cream cheese; these will melt as the scalloped potatoes bake.

You can see the sauce has lumps of cream cheese; these will melt as the scalloped potatoes bake.

  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F.
  • Cover the dish(es) tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes for a large dish, or 25 for smaller dishes.
  • Remove foil and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are tender when tested with the tip of a sharp knife and the top is golden brown.
  • Serve warm.

Serves 4.

 

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A Taste for Life 2014 – Hope Made Delicious

It’s one of the most anticipated nights of the year – an evening when diners can gather with friends, in a restaurant of their choosing, and participate in one of the easiest and most meaningful fundraisers around. Now in its sixteenth year, A Taste for Life, taking place at restaurants across the region on April 23, provides crucial financial support for two essential local organizations – Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation.

Steph "The Grilling Gourmet" is once again the spokesperson for A Taste For Life. Here, he shows off some of his marvelous candied bacon.

Steph “The Grilling Gourmet” is once again the spokesperson for A Taste For Life. Here, he shows off some of his marvelous candied bacon.

At the event launch held April 16 at the Urban Element, attendees learned about the proud history of A Taste for Life and the important work being done by the causes that benefit. With over 3800 people infected with HIV/AIDS in the Ottawa area (including 25% who don’t know yet that they are infected), the tangible and intangible support offered by Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation is vital. The event has grown in popularity and scope since its inception and now takes place in two dozen communities across Canada.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson enjoyed sampling the delicious bites on offer at the Taste for Life event launch at Urban Element.

Mayor Jim Watson was on hand at the launch, enjoying the delicious nibbles on offer from five of the participating A Taste for Life chefs/venues. The food was a delightful representation of the excellent fare – ranging from casual to elegant – that  diners will enjoy on April 23 at any one of the forty-two participating restaurants. “This event combines what people like to do in this community,” he said. “They like to help, and they like to eat.” He noted that there has been a renaissance in Ottawa’s food scene since A Taste for Life started and the event is a true celebration of the talented individuals who make exceptional food every day.

The Urban Element has generously hosted the A Taste for Life even launch for many years.

The Urban Element has generously hosted the A Taste for Life even launch for many years.

Watson specifically paid tribute to the over 100 volunteers who make A Taste for Life possible (including over 50 from presenting sponsor TD Bank). “We hope one day that we won’t have to raise funds for people living with HIV/AIDS but that day is not yet upon us, so we still have work to do,” he added.

Steph the Grilling Gourmet served up Hickory and Apple Wood Smoked Pulled Pork Cones topped with Candied Bacon and Drizzled with a Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce

Steph the Grilling Gourmet served up Pulled Pork Cones topped with Candied Bacon

Simon Bell of Oz Cafe’s tasty creation featured a tuna tartare bathed in yuzo mayonnaise perched on a bannock pancake, garnished with puffed wild rice and a tamari, honey and hoisin drizzle.

Charles Part from Les Fougères served a heavenly chowder composed of seared scallop and potted shrimp with salt cod ravioli and mussels.

Charles Part from Les Fougères served a heavenly chowder composed of seared scallop and potted shrimp with salt cod ravioli and mussels.

Laura Fletcher and her team from Winchelsea Events supplied tasty Guadalajara-inspired shredded pork mini sandwiches.

Laura Fletcher and her team from Winchelsea Events supplied tasty Guadalajara-inspired shredded pork mini sandwiches.

Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again Creative Catering was on hand to serve yummy berry and passionfruit mousse parfaits.

Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again Creative Catering was on hand to serve yummy berry and passionfruit mousse parfaits.

To date, A Taste for Life has raised over $750,000. Last year, 4200 diners participated, with most of the restaurants – each of which donate 25% of their proceeds that night – filled to capacity. Where will you and your friends dine on April 23?

For complete details and a list of the over forty restaurants participating in this year’s edition, please visit http://www.atasteforlife.org/ottawa.html

 

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Lemon Puffs

I recently got to spend a few days with my first culinary partner in crime. As university housemates, Karen and I shared a strong enthusiasm for procrastination by cooking, always accompanied by many cups of tea. Being in the kitchen with her this spring brought back so many delicious memories and inspired a number of the recipes I have posted lately, including this delightful dessert. Brightly coloured, tangy flavoured lemon curd is sandwiched between delicate, flaky pastry layers to make perfect little bites that would be ideal for a tea party or as a light dessert after a big meal. The puffs can be baked ahead of time but should be served within an hour of filling. Not quite a cookie, not quite a pie…these little beauties are hard to classify, but easy to make and oh so pretty!

Flaky pastry and a layer of tangy lemon make perfect little bite-sized desserts.

Flaky pastry and a layer of tangy lemon curd make these lemon puffs the perfect little bite-sized desserts.

Ingredients

  • 1 package (400 g) frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) icing (powdered) sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) super fine (caster) sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) super fine (caster) sugar

One batch lemon curd.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Zest lemons, putting zest in a small bowl.
  • Dust your countertop lightly with icing sugar. Divide puff pastry into two equal portions and roll each one out to an 8 inch (20 cm) square.
  • Mix the reserved lemon zest with 2 tablespoons (28 g) superfine sugar and sprinkle over each sheet of puff pastry.
  • Carefully lift one of the sheets and place it on top of the other, with both sugared sides facing up.
  • Continue rolling out the stacked pastry so it almost doubles in size (your goal is to have a square that is approximately 14 inches (35 cm).
  • With a 2” (5 cm) round pastry cutter (use a drinking glass if you don’t have a cutter), cut out 24 circles in the dough (you may be able to cut more than this if you’re careful).
  • Transfer the cut circles to the lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart.
  • Lightly prick the tops of each circle several times with a fork.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes; they should puff up and turn light brown.
  • While the puffs are baking, whisk together the egg yolk and remaining 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sugar.
  • After the puffs have baked for 8 minutes, brush the top of each one with the egg yolk mixture and return the trays to the oven for a further 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden, but watch them carefully to be sure they do not burn.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Split the cooled pastries in half with a sharp knife and slather the lemon curd in the centre, sandwiching the halves back together.

Makes 24 little puffs.

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Maple Gimlet

The gimlet is a classic gin-based cocktail that has never really gone out of style. Many traditional gimlet recipes call for lime cordial while others favour freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar, or a combination of lime juice and simple syrup. I chose to make my own lime cordial, replacing the sugar with maple syrup to give this drink a Canadian twist, as well as a wonderfully balanced sweet and sour taste. This flavourful reinvention of the gimlet was inspired by the powerful botanical notes in Ungava,  a relatively new Canadian gin. While juniper is present, as with all gins, the other flavouring elements – including cloudberry, rose hips and Labrador tea – give Ungava an intriguing citrusy aspect that makes it ideal for many cocktails, including my other new favourite drink – the Spring Fling. Either of these concoctions would be ideal as a signature cocktail for your next gathering.

This gimlet is composed of fresh lime juice and maple syrup combined with premium gin.

This gimlet is composed of fresh lime juice and maple syrup combined with premium gin.

Ingredients

For the cordial

  • 6 limes
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup

For the cocktail

  • 2 ounces premium gin
  • 1.5 ounces maple-lime cordial

Method

For the cordial

  • Heat the limes gently in the microwave on medium-low for 30 seconds or in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Zest the limes with a vegetable peeler, taking care to leave the white pith on the fruit. Reserve zest.
  • Juice the limes, reserving juice. You need 1 cup (250 mL) of juice.
  • Put the maple syrup, half the lime juice and half the lime zest into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Put the remaining lime juice and zest into a glass jar and pour the maple mixture over top.
  • Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • Strain the mixture through a sieve and store in fridge until needed. The cordial will keep for 2 weeks.

For the cocktail

  • In a cocktail shaker (or a jar with a tight lid), combine the gin and maple lime cordial. Shake well to blend.
  • Pour the mixture over ice in a cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of lime.
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African Harvest – a celebration of food and farmers

I have long been a fan of fundraising events which take special care to include a great food component. African Harvest, taking place in Ottawa on Thursday, May 1st, will be a truly delicious fundraiser, in support of Farm Radio International.

african harvest

In case you’ve not heard of Farm Radio International, it’s an amazing Canadian-based not for profit organization that works in direct partnership with approximately 400 radio broadcasters in 38 African countries to fight poverty and food insecurity. They do this by preparing radio scripts which are then broadcast to hundreds of millions of farm families in developing countries. These farmers – the majority of whom have very limited access to telephones or the internet – rely on the practical information supplied through these broadcasts about low-cost farm methods so that they can increase their food supplies and improve their lives.

The event not only marks 35 years since Farm Radio International sent out its first script package, it’s also a celebration of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. This fundraiser brings together Chef Jeff Crump, acclaimed author of Earth to Table and Executive Chef of the Landmark Group (which includes five restaurants and a 100-acre organic farm), and the talented Le Cordon Bleu trained Chef Andrée Riffou of Ottawa’s C’est Bon Cooking. Both chefs will dazzle you with their prowess as they deliver small plates inspired by and seasoned with the flavours of Africa.

African Harvest is being held at the St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts on Saint Patrick Street in the Byward Market. The event will feature live cooking demonstrations, delicious Africa-inspired food, a variety of local wine and beer, and a silent and live auction. You can purchase tickets online through Eventbrite, by phone at 1-888-773-7717 and in person at Cardamom & Cloves spice shop at 440 Preston Street. The cost of a ticket is $75 (or $65.63 for groups of 8 or more), which includes four small plates and complimentary wine and beer.

 

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Fruit Crumble with Caramel-Cardamom Sauce

I wish I’d known a long time ago what a great flavour punch freshly ground cardamom adds to all kinds of dishes, without overpowering the main elements. It’s recently become one of my favourite spices! I particularly enjoy the combination of cardamom and fruit (have you tried my Rustic Peach-Cardamom Tart yet?) and was anxious to come up with something new for spring entertaining.  I’ve long been a fan of fruit crisps but sometimes find the fruit a little lacking in flavour. Caramel sauce, I thought; that’s the ticket – but not drizzled on top as many recipes suggest. How about cooking the fruit right in the sauce? I will probably never make fruit crisp any other way now.  I have designed this dish without wheat flour, as I find I’m getting lots of requests for gluten-free recipes. Cooking the fruit a bit in the caramel sauce prevents it from shrinking down as much in the baking dishes so you can pack a lot more fruit into your baking dishes and it won’t shrink down as much in the oven. I love the combination of pears and apples but it would be delicious with your favourite fruit or fruit pairing as well.

This gluten-free crumble topping bakes up so crunchy and delicious.

This gluten-free crumble bakes up so crunchy and delicious; it’s the perfect topping for cardamom-infused caramel-covered fruit.

Ingredients

Crumble Topping

  • ½ cup (125 mL) quick cooking (not minute) oats
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) oat flour (make this by pulverizing oats in food processor or blender) *
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground cardamom **
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) cold butter

 Fruit

  • 3 small apples
  • 2 medium pears
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 mL) freshly ground cardamom **

Caramel Sauce

  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice

* you can substitute all purpose or whole wheat flour for the oat flour; finely ground nuts would work as well!

** you’ll need about 2 teaspoons of green cardamom pods for this recipe; crack them open and extract the black seeds then grind them in a mortar and pestle until they form a light brown powder

Method

  • Prepare the crumble topping up to 2 days ahead of time by combining the oats, oat flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom in a medium bowl.
  • Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the oats mixture. With your fingertips, rub the butter into the oats until it is evenly combined and the mixture is in pieces the size of peas.
  • Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the dish.
  • Get fruit ready by peeling, coring and cutting into thin slices. Sprinkle with cardamom and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Prepare caramel sauce by putting sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat.
  • Stir occasionally while butter and sugar melt to form a smooth, pale sauce. Add lemon juice and stir to combine.
  • Continue to cook the sauce, stirring often (be sure to do this so the sugar does not scorch), until it is medium golden brown in colour (about 5 – 7 minutes).
  • Add the prepared fruit to the caramel sauce; note that the sauce may clump up when you add the fruit, but it will re-melt.
  • Increase heat just a little and cook the fruit in the caramel sauce, stirring gently and often, for 5 minutes, until the fruit has softened (but is not falling apart).
  • Divide the fruit and caramel sauce among six 1/2 cup (125 mL) ramekins (or put the fruit and caramel sauce into a medium-sized oven-safe glass or ceramic baking dish) which you have set on a baking sheet (to catch drips as the caramel bubbles up in the oven).
Cooking the fruit in the caramel sauce ensures that it won't shrink down as much during baking.

Cooking the fruit in the caramel sauce ensures that it won’t shrink down as much during baking.

  • Heap crumble topping over the fruit.
  • Bake until caramel sauce is nicely bubbling and crumble topping is golden brown.
Combining apples and pears with cardamom-caramel sauce makes for an extraordinary fruit crumble!

Combining apples and pears with cardamom-caramel sauce makes for an extraordinary fruit crumble!

  • Let rest at least 15 minute or up to 4 hours before serving.

Serves 6.

Posted in Desserts, Fruit | 5 Comments