Roasted Cauliflower and Shallot “Hummus”

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Cauliflower is one of those versatile vegetables that is good for you but can easily be transformed into so many dishes.  This heart-healthy dip from Cooking Canuck is hummus-like in color and texture but is made entirely of the puréed cruciferous veggie and gets a depth of flavor from caramelized shallots, smoked paprika and rosemary.  Crunchy hazelnuts add protein and texture.  So easy, good and guilt-free.  Dig in!

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Witch Hazel Front Door Basket

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In the depth of winter, when most of my zone 6 garden is hibernating, there is the most magnificent blooming tree in my garden. It seems as if overnight, the bare limbs of this tree are filled with clusters of feathery flowers up and down its branches. Their fragrance is intoxicating and beguiling.  The spidery flowers with long crinkly petals vary in color from yellow to golden orange and burgundy.

My witch hazel's flowers are golden orange with deep burgundy centers.

My witch hazel’s flowers are golden orange with deep burgundy centers.

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Upside Down Blood Orange-Olive Oil Snacking Cake

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This cake features in-season blood oranges in both the batter and in an upside down layer.  The whole fruit is pulverized into a purée which is folded into the batter.  A second orange, thinly sliced, is layered on the bottom of the pan much as if making an upside down cake.  I used a citrus flavored olive oil in my batter to add a triple punch of citrus flavor.  This is a moist cake with bold bittersweet notes as the whole fruit, pith and peel included, is used.  If you love marmalade, you will love the bite of citrus in this cake.

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Savory Turkey-Cranberry Hand Pies

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All around the world, savory pies encased in golden pastry are the ultimate hand-held comfort food.  Each culture has its own tradition. In Russia, the piroshki is a ground beef and onion deep fried pie flavored with dill and served with sour cream on the side.  In Turkey, the borek’s filling can comprise of spiced ground lamb or beef or a vegetarian filling and the pastry is more of a phyllo-type dough.  In England the Cornish pasty, a turnover in a half-moon shape, stufffed with minced or roughly cut beef with turnip, potato and onion has been around since the 14th Century and may be the original street food.  Latin America has given us the empanada which varies from country to country:  Argentina stuffs theirs with ground beef and olives while Chile showcases seafood in theirs. Their dough can be made from wheat or corn flour or even from plantain or sweet potatoes.  The West Indies’ Jamaican patty has attained almost cult status.  Its pastry boasts turmeric to give it its golden color and the filling is a spicy beef seasoned with Scotch bonnet peppers, curry powder and cumin although vegetarian or seafood versions are also popular.  In India, the samosa is a triangular pastry stuffed with meat, fish or cheese and sometimes spiced potatoes and veggies. In culturally-rich Canada, many of these hand held pastries from around the world are on menus everywhere.  I never, however, encountered the beloved tourtière of French Canadian culinary heritage offered in a hand held size.

Recently, while in a marathon session in the kitchen preparing  home-cooked meals to send to one of my sons, I was inspired to create our family’s traditional meat pies in individual portions for ease of travel and in a size to feed a single guy, not a whole family.   I substituted the pork for ground turkey and added shredded cabbage and dried cranberries to my maman’s classic tourtière recipe, with all its fragrant spices enveloping a golden, flaky half round pastry crust.  And oh my, the result was totally mouth-watering and so adorable in its mini size, a practical adaptation of a family favorite.  Then I read an article on hand pies from around the world in the current issue of The Canadian Living Magazine and realized there were NO Canadian savory meat pies featured.  Who knows, maybe I’ve just created the Canadian cultural offering to the world of savory hand-pies?  From Canada, with love!

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Cheesy Italian Baked Beans with Spinach

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Traditional Italian ingredients such as onions, garlic, tomato, parmesan and rosemary transforms traditional baked beans into an exciting side dish or a vegetarian main.  Parmesan is mixed into the beans themselves and in an ooey-gooey-good gratin layer on top, making this dish decadently cheesy.  The rosemary prominently shines through.  Reduce the quantity for more subtlety.  The fire roasted tomatoes add some kick, as does the red pepper flakes.  And unlike traditional baked beans, these have no sugar added. At a recent potluck gathering of an international group where the food was abundant and fabulous, someone asked out loud who had made the baked beans.  I sheepishly revealed myself and was singled out for rave reviews.  Who knew such a simple dish, mostly from pantry staples, transformed into a bold comforting dish would be such a hit?  Left overs are good on toast with an egg on top for breakfast.  Hope you’ll give this dish a try.

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Cheesy Italian Baked Beans with Spinach

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 28-once can of fire roasted chopped tomatoes with green chili, including the jU.K. emperor
  • 1/4 cup of fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped, more for garnish
  • 1 6-once bag of baby spinach, or more if you want extra greens
  • 3 14-once cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded fontina cheese( I used a 4 cheese blend that included fontina)
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat, add onion and garlic and cook until onion if translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add spinach and stir until wilted.  Add pinch of salt, tomatoes and rosemary.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat, and cook, uncovered, 5-10 minutes to thicken slightly.
  4. Stir in the beans, half of the parmesan and rosemary.  Add 1/8 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  Bear in mind the tomatoes may already have salt and the cheeses will also be salty.  Cook 5 more minutes.
  5. Transfer to a 2 quart oven-proof casserole dish.  Top with remaining cheese.  Bake in center of oven, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes until the edges begin to brown.  Sprinkle with additional rosemary and serve.

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Terrarium Gardening

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Terrarium:  a glass container, chiefly or wholly enclosed, for growing and displaying plants.

Terrariums provide a wonderful indoor gardening activity  and are easy to make. The materials needed to create a terrarium such as drainage pebbles, soil and small plants are readily available and virtually any container can be repurposed into a terrarium.  Having greenery around during the winter months is a surefire way to beat the blues and terrarium gardening is a fun creative outlet. Low maintenance needs make terrariums very appealing.

To prepare this post I visited my local Terrain at Styers store for inspiration and to purchase plants. They have a whole section of ready made terrariums or all plants and materials to build your own. I created my own closed container terrarium and documented the process to walk  you through the step-by-step construction.  Then I met with my talented gardening friend  Missy who sells terrariums she creates, to have her share her best tips for successful terrarium construction and to teach us all her creative design secrets. You are in for a treat!

Terrain at Styers creation

Terrain at Styers creation

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Swedish Almond Cake

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In January, my garden club becomes a book club and we discuss a garden-themed book.  The Garden of Evening Mists by Taiwanese author Tan Twan Eng, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and The Signature of All Things by local author Elizabeth Gilbert,  have been some of my favorite reads.  One year a beautiful cake was served and soon everyone was swooning over this simple cake in a most intriguing shape.  Its baker, Cindy, told us it was a Swedish Almond Cake, a traditional and popular cake in Sweden.img_1369  Its elongated, half round, ribbed shape was obtained by baking the cake in a special pan.  This cake pan is as common in Sweden as the Bundt is in North America and often sold with the recipe attached.

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The cake is beloved and popular because if is fast, simple and made from ingredients already in your pantry:  butter, sugar, flour, milk and almond extract.  It is similar to a pound cake but lighter in texture with a lovely almond flavor. The ribbed design makes it easy to slice the cake and the half size is just right for a little indulgence.  It can be made in a regular 9″ pan or the recipe doubled to bake in a Bundt if you don’t have the special pan. The pan is readily available online or at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond where it is sold as a Rehruecken German Almond Cake pan. (This must be a popular cake in Germany also!)  Soon after the recipe was shared around our garden club, I was delighted to find my very own Swedish Almond Cake  pan in my mailbox, a surprise gift from my friend Deedee, a talented baker.  I love my garden club friends and I hope you enjoy this cake as much as we did! Continue reading