Celebration Squares

I wasn’t sure what to name this new recipe until I thought about the occasion for which I created it – an upcoming weekend of celebrations at my alma mater, Queen’s University in Kingston. Homecomings are always special, and this will be even more so because it’s the 30th anniversary of my graduation and friends are gathering from all across the country. I knew I had to bring my A game to the party…hence these little beauties, which actually remind me a lot of the decadent things I would nibble while trying to study or finish assignments. Buttery shortbread topped with gooey salted caramel, crunchy pretzels and pecans, smothered in a layer of chocolate ganache – doesn’t that sounds like a treat fit for a celebration?

Buttery shortbread, chewy salted caramel, crunchy pretzels and pecans, smothered in chocolate - a treat fit for any celebration!

Buttery shortbread, chewy salted caramel, crunchy pretzels and pecans, smothered in chocolate – a treat fit for any celebration!

Ingredients

Shortbread:

  • ½ cup (125 mL) white sugar
  • ¾ cup (175 mL) softened butter
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
  • 1 ½ cups (375 mL) all purpose flour

Caramel Layer:

  • 1 cup (250 mL) white sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) butter
  • ½ cup (125 mL) whipping (35%) cream
  • ½ teaspoon good quality salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (250 mL) crushed pretzels

Gananche:

  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • ½ cup (125 mL) whipping cream
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons (5 – 10 mL) Maldon salt or fleur de sel to sprinkle on top

Method

  • Begin with the shortbread layer; start by preheating oven to 350 F.
  • Line an 8 inch (20 cm) square pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one, beat together sugar, butter and salt until it looks light in colour and is fluffy.
  • Sprinkle flour on top of butter mixture and beat for another minute or two, until it is uniformly crumbly and just starting to come together as dough.
  • Pour the shortbread mixture into the prepared pan and press it down evenly using your hand or a spatula.
  • Refrigerate for 10 minutes then bake for 20 minutes until just beginning to turn golden.
  • Remove pan from oven and let it cool for 20 minutes before proceeding with the caramel layer.
  • Pour the sugar into a large, heavy bottomed pan, and heat over medium to medium low until the sugar begins to melt. Instead of stirring, swirl the pan every minute or so to ensure it heats evenly. Do not let yourself become distracted during this step as the sugar can burn quickly. Trust me on this.
  • Once the sugar is all melted and has turned a deep amber colour, add the butter and cream, stirring vigorously. Note that the mixture will bubble and steam rather violently at first, so be careful.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the salt.
  • Sprinkle the pecans and pretzels evenly over the cooled shortbread crust then pour the caramel mixture over top, making sure to distribute as evenly as possible.
  • Put the pan in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so, just until the caramel has begun to set.
  • Make the chocolate ganache by putting the chocolate chips in a heatproof dish (I like to use a glass measuring cup for this).
  • In a separate vessel, heat the cream until it is steaming but not bubbling (you can do this in the microwave, or in a small pot on the stove).
  • Slowly pour the warmed cream over the chocolate chips. Stir vigorously with a fork until the chocolate chips have melted completely and the mixture has become smooth. If you have trouble with a few pesky lumps, microwave the mixture on medium-high for about 10 – 15 seconds and stir some more.
  • Pour the ganache over the caramel layer and smooth it out with a spatula.
  • Sprinkle the ganache with the Maldon salt or fleur de sel.
  • Refrigerate just until set them cut into smallish pieces – the squares are thick and rich!
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Lentil-Sweet Potato Soup

I don’t think I will ever tire of making – or eating – soup. Autumn is a great time to fill your freezer with all sorts of vegetable-based soups, especially when the markets are brimming with local produce. I like this soup because it can be made in vegetarian or vegan form, simply by selecting olive oil and vegetable stock instead of butter and chicken stock. As with all pureed soups, it’s nice to add a crunchy garnish at serving for a contrast of flavour and texture.

Lentils and sweet potatoes make a soup that is flavourful and nutritious.

Lentils and sweet potatoes make a soup that is flavourful and nutritious.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) peeled, minced fresh ginger
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.5 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cumin
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Garnish: roasted chickpeas, veggie sticks, toasted coconut, chopped nuts, etc.

Method

  • In a large pot, heat butter or olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes.
  • Add garlic and ginger, sauté for 2 minutes longer.
  • While aromatics are cooking, put lentils in a strainer. Sift through them with your fingers and remove any stones, then rinse with cold water.
  • Peel and chop sweet potatoes.
  • Add lentils and potatoes to the pot along with salt, pepper and cumin. Stir for 2 minutes to lightly toast the spices.
  • Add the chicken or vegetable stock.
  • Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, until potatoes and lentils are tender.
  • Puree soup (use a stick blender or a regular blender) until smooth. Add a bit of water – but not too much –  if you find it too thick for your preference.
  • Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with your favourite crunchy topping.

Serves 6 – 8.

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Planting for a sweet future at Nova Scotia’s newest Haskap farm

It is no secret that I have quite a fondness for farmers. I love purchasing directly from the people who labour so tirelessly to produce top-quality produce. Listening to them speak passionately about their work encourages me to be ever more respectful of what they’ve grown, wasting nothing and treating each element with care and thoughtfulness. It was therefore with great excitement that I embraced the opportunity a few weeks ago to visit and help out a brand-new agricultural venture in south-eastern Nova Scotia. South Shore Farms is the province’s newest participant in the growing Haskap industry.

Haskap berries are deep in colour and rich in flavour.      ~ Kira Curtis photo

Nutritious Haskap berries are deep blue in colour and rich in flavour.                                 ~ Kira Curtis photo

You’re sure to be hearing more about Haskaps very soon, given the berry’s powerful nutritional profile and delicious taste. A member of the honeysuckle family, it is native to both Russia and Japan, where it’s been grown for generations. The royal blue, oval-shaped Haskaps – sometimes called Honeyberries – have three times the antioxidants of the blueberry and are packed with Vitamin C.

Haskap bushes are hardier than many other plants, making them well-suited for Canada's climate.   ~ Kira Curtis photo

Haskap bushes are hardier than many other plants, making them well-suited for Canada’s climate.       ~ Kira Curtis photo

My host on planting day was South Shore Farms’ proud owner and serial entrepreneur David Eisnor. He works for Futurpreneur Canada (formerly the Canadian Youth Business Foundation), the only national non -profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39. “I first heard of the Haskap berry when a student presented the idea of planting Haskap at a pitch competition,” said David. “I was intrigued by the healthy aspects of the berry, along with the business opportunity. I started to do my research, knowing that I might finally get to realize my longstanding goal of owning a farm.”

South Shore Farms' David Eisnor gave us planting instructions before we headed out to the freshly-tilled fields.

South Shore Farms’ David Eisnor gave us planting instructions before we headed out to the freshly-tilled fields.

He subsequently located the ideal property which features an off-grid, 150 year old farmhouse on 180 acres of land, including a combination of field, pasture, wetland, and wood lot. David’s farm now includes approximately 5000 plants, both 1 and 2 year old bushes. He’s planting five different Haskap varieties in total, including Berry Blue, Larisa, Ruth, Indigo Gem, and Aurora. “These varieties were recommended to me by LaHave Natural Farms (Haskapa), my supplier,” he explained. “Having a mix is important for cross-pollination; as well as some berries have slightly different flavours and shapes, so slightly different uses for commercial sale.”

A group of 50 friends and supporters helped David get 5000 bushes in the ground in two days.

A group of 50 friends and supporters helped David get 5000 Haskap bushes in the ground in two days.

Haskap bushes are extremely cold-tolerant, making them a hardy choice for Canadian farmers. David said he should have a very small yield of fruit next year, with a commercial yield, based on having some two year old plants, in two years and the start of a healthy and consistent yield in three years. “After 5 years, the plants are mature, and should produce berry for 20 years or more,” he added. He plans initially to sell his berries back to Lahave Natural Farms (Haskapa) and thereby start to generate a steady revenue stream. His plan is also to move towards creating Haskap products (jams, chutneys, and other products) under his own unique brand.

The small bushes looked so fragile, but they'll overwinter well and start producing a small about of Haskap berries next spring.

The small bushes looked so fragile, but they’ll overwinter well and start producing a small about of Haskap berries next spring.

He was thrilled to have so many friends and supporters show up to help put bushes in the ground on a gorgeous late-summer day. “Crowd sourcing was an important part of the entire project for me,” enthused David. “From the start, I wanted to get family and friends involved, and it was fantastic to have fifty people to come and help out on planting day!”

I was thrilled to help some of my Nova Scotia family members plant at South Shore Farms.

I was thrilled to help some of my Nova Scotia family members plant Haskap bushes at South Shore Farms.   ~ S. Amos photo

David’s already looking to expand his farm. “If the popularity of Haskaps increases, I will add acres of bushes; if not, I will add other crops, maybe hops or grapes. But I definitely plan to build upon what I have started here and future goals include developing agri-tourism opportunities.”

I spoke with Liam Tayler of industry-leading Lahave Natural Farms, wondering why he is so quick to offer advice and assistance to other Haskap farmers. His answer was simple – by helping others, they can collectively grow the Haskap industry. “We believe that these are fantastic berries and can bring Nova Scotia and Ontario agriculture to new heights. We presently buy berries from many farmers; working closely with them means we can ensure they are growing fruit to our specifications,” says Liam. “We want to make Haskapa the forerunner of the haskap industry in Canada; premium quality products need premium quality berries.”

Lahave Natural Farms has helped over 100 growers, selling them plants and providing advice (and sometimes hands-on assistance) regarding cultivation and harvesting. Their influence, and the calibre of products they are already selling, is particularly impressive given the firm’s short history. The company was formed in 2010, planted its first Haskap bushes in 2011, and brought its first Haskapa-branded products to market in November of 2013.

Lahave Natural Farms grows its own berries and purchases them from other farmers to create its delicious, award-winning Haskapa products.

Lahave Natural Farms grows its own berries and purchases them from other farmers to create its delicious, award-winning Haskapa products.

“We’ve move quickly as we wanted to get other farmers excited enough about the potential to also put plants in the ground. By getting our delicious products to market quickly, we were able to demonstrate commercial viability, which incents others to plant.”

Liam and his team have been rewarded for their efforts. Their rich-tasting Haskap juice, with a concentrated flavour reminiscent of both blueberries and cranberries, won first prize in the Best New Juice category at Germany’s prestigious World Juice Awards last fall.

You can’t find Haskapa products on store shelves in the Ottawa-area yet (though you can order by phone or online), but Liam is hopeful they’ll break into the market here very soon. “We are limited by the volume of berries we can grow and purchase, so we have to be very careful not to oversell and leave people without stock. We’ve been focusing on the Maritimes till now but are carefully expanding into Ontario.”  Demand is likely to build after Haskapa unveils its newest product – Haskap Maple Syrup – at the Gourmet Food and Wine showcase in Toronto next month. It’s a delicious addition to a line that includes juice, jams, chutneys, salsas and more.

I was fortunate to get my hands on a small supply of dried Haskap berries, condiments and concentrated Haskap juice. I look forward to creating some new recipes using these tasty ingredients – watch for future Haskap-themed posts in the months ahead!

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Chili-Dilly Pickled Beans

When I spotted these gorgeous purple beans at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market, I was tempted to buy a whole bushel. I adore beans and their vibrant colour made them extra alluring. My enthusiasm was tempered when the vendor explained that they lose a lot of their purple hue when cooked, so I restrained myself and bought just a pint to do some small-batch preserving. The photo below shows the beans immediately after canning; they did lose some of their colour as they brined but they still look ever so pretty and are very tasty as well!

You can use beans of any colour to make a small batch of these tasty pickles.

You can use beans of any colour to make a small batch of these tasty pickles.

Ingredients

  • 1 pint fresh beans (purple, green or yellow)
  •  cloves garlic, bruised
  • 4 heads dill or 1 tablespoon (15 mL) dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) chili flakes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) coarse salt.

Method

  • Wash beans well to remove any dirt.
  • Pack beans tightly into two 2 cup / 500 mL canning jars which have been meticulously cleaned. Add garlic, dill and chili flakes evenly to both jars, interspersing with beans.
  • In a glass measure in the microwave, or in a small pot on the stove, heat water, vinegar and salt until boiling. Stir to dissolve salt.
  • Pour hot brine over beans and seal jars. If you don’t have enough brine, top jars up with water.
  • Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate.
  • Beans will be ready to eat in 24 hours and can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.

Makes two 500 mL jars.

IMG_6904.JPG

Green, yellow or purple – any tender bean is good for pickling!

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Pineapple-Grilled Salmon with avocado salsa

Fish and fruit are such a perfect combination. This particular dish was inspired by an article I read which talked about the popular Hawaiian pairing of canned Spam and pineapple (I kid you not). That might be tasty….but I think salmon and pineapple is even better. While I like to prepare a bed of mild-flavoured quinoa for this salmon dish, rice or couscous would be equally good.

Layering salmon between slices of fresh pineapple before grilling infuses the fish with a ton of flavour and keeps it from drying out as well.

Layering salmon between slices of fresh pineapple before grilling infuses the fish with a ton of flavour and keeps it from drying out as well.

Ingredients

  • 1 leek (white part only), split, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 8 thin (1/3 inch or 1 cm) slices fresh pineapple
  • 2 salmon fillets, approximately 5 ounces (140 grams) each
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, diced
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) minced red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) minced scallions (green onions)
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons (10 – 15 mL) honey, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh lime juice (or more, to taste)
  • few dashes hot sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons (60 mL) chopped pistachios

Method

  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter (or heat olive oil) over medium heat. Add sliced leeks and cook, stirring, for several minutes, until leeks are softened.
  • Add quinoa and water to saucepan. Cover and increase heat to medium high. As soon as the quinoa comes to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting. Cook, covered, for about 40 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed.
  • While quinoa cooks, preheat barbeque to hot (approximately 400F).
  • While barbeque is heating, lay out two 12 inch (30 cm) square pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil.
  • Place two large pineapple slices in the centre of each foil square.
  • Place salmon on top of pineapple; top with additional slices of pineapple so the salmon is completely covered on both sides.
Wrapping the salmon and pineapple in foil keeps the fish from drying out as it cooks.

Wrapping the salmon and pineapple in foil keeps the fish from drying out as it cooks.

  • Fold up the edges of the foil to seal the packet tightly.
  • When the grill is hot, place the salmon packets on the grate. Flip once after ten minutes; cook for a total of twenty minutes.
  • While salmon is cooking, prepare the avocado salsa. In a small bowl, combine diced avocado, red pepper, scallions, honey, lime juice and hot sauce. Stir gently to blend well. Add more honey, lime juice or hot sauce to suit your tastes, along with salt and pepper.
  • To plate, put cooked quinoa in the bottom of a broad soup plate. Top with pineapple and salmon. Spoon avocado salsa over top and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.

Serves 2.

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Blueberry Ice Cream

This recipe was inspired by the incomparable taste of blueberry pie. While I love raw blueberries in my morning cereal, they seem to become even more flavourful when baked up in muffins or pies. Cooking up the berries before adding them to the egg and cream custard means the ice cream is really saturated with that delicious berry flavour. I’ll be freezing extra berries this week so I can make this delicious ice cream throughout the fall and winter.

If you close your eyes, you just might think you're eating chilled blueberry pie when you enjoy this luscious ice cream.

If you close your eyes, you just might think you’re eating chilled blueberry pie when you enjoy this luscious ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) blueberries, rinsed and picked over (frozen berries are fine as well)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 cups (500 mL) whipping (35%) cream
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk (2% or 3.5% are best)
  • 6 eggs, yolks only
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla

Method

  • In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, lemon juice and cinnamon with ¼ cup (60 mL) of the sugar.
  • Bring to a boil then cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until blueberries have softened and the mixture is looking a bit jam-like (about 10 minutes).
  • Put into a covered dish and refrigerate to chill.
  • In a large saucepan, combine remaining sugar, cream, and milk.
  • Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot and is just about to simmer – try not to let it boil.
  • While cream mixture is heating, put egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk then add about half the hot cream mixture to the eggs, ½ cup (125 mL) at a time.
  • Return egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the spoon (about 8 – 10 minutes).
  • Remove from heat; add vanilla and strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl.
  • Cover the bowl and refrigerate for several hours until completely chilled.
  • Fold the chilled blueberry mixture into the chilled custard.
  • Freeze following ice cream machine manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes about 1 litre (1 quart plus).

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Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins

I love baking with blueberries. Just the sight of them in a pie, scone or muffin makes me smile. While it’s their delicious flavour that I find irresistible, it’s also great knowing that they are packed with all sorts of nutritional and antioxidant goodness as well! This wholesome muffin recipe is a personal favourite. You can use either fresh or frozen berries and these muffins freeze beautifully. 

Browning the butter gives these muffins an extra-special flavour.

Browning the butter gives these muffins an extra-special flavour.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (125 mL) butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whole wheat flour
  • 2.5 cups (375 mL) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (250 mL) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups (500 mL) blueberries
  • Coarse sugar

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners (or grease with vegetable oil).
  • Put the butter in a small pan set over medium-low heat. Cook butter until it begins to brown and becomes very fragrant, stirring occasionally. Keep a close eye on it during this process so it does not burn.
  • As soon as butter is browned, pour it into a heatproof bowl, scraping pan in the process, and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream or yogurt, milk and vanilla. Add the browned butter and stir well.
  • In a separate, large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon and lemon zest.
  • Sprinkle the blueberries on top of the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the liquids over the dry ingredients and berries and stir just until combined (don’t over mix).
  • Fill the muffin tins 2/3 full with the batter. Sprinkle tops with coarse sugar.
  • Bake for 18 minutes, until tops are lightly browned.

Makes 18 muffins.

browned butter blueberry muffins 2

 

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